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Throwback Thursday: Celebrating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Navy Midshipmen

Happy Independence Day!

Navy v Notre Dame Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

As an alumna who is the daughter of a retired Naval Officer, who attended Notre Dame before he served in the Navy, military holidays are a pretty big deal in my family. Not to mention the fact that the majority of my nieces/nephews/cousins (who are in the late teens and twenties) either have or are still serving, with the lot of them covering all four branches of the military. As we celebrate our nation’s independence today, I’m drawn to pause and reflect on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s connection to the Navy and the Naval Academy.

I know, plenty of people (maybe even the majority of people) wish we would remove the Navy Midshipmen from our schedule, arguing that we have more than paid back our debt to Navy, and that the injuries that we often sustain in the course of an on-the-field battle with Navy are far too great. But the relationship with Navy off-the-field, and the rivalry with Navy on-the-field still means something to me, and holds great value.

  • The rivalry consists of 92 uninterrupted years of a football between Notre Dame and Navy.
  • 76 victories earned by the Fighting Irish in the match-up.
  • Incredible lore played out by young men who are heroes both on and off the field, on both sides of the ball.

And we owe it all to Army. Yep, If someone in the Army would have responded in the early 1940s to the invitation from Notre Dame President Rev. Hugh O’Donnell to use the University as a training ground, it might be the Army Black Knights that the Irish have played for nine consecutive decades, instead of the irregular nature of the 51 battles with the Black Knights.

When Army rejected Notre Dame, Rev. O’Donnell tapped the shoulder of the next branch, Navy.

Admiral Chester Nimitz was thrilled to send his charges to South Bend, Ind., eventually sending 12,000 officers to Notre Dame for training exercises between 1942 and 1946, and as a result pulled Notre Dame out of dire financial straits that threatened to end the existence of the school we all know and love. I’m guessing you’ve probably heard this story before, so I won’t bore you with the details. But if you haven’t, please check out the incredible Notre Dame/Navy history captured by ND Archives.

Navy training in the v-12 program at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Archives

Every year the critics will emerge, citing all of the reasons why Notre Dame should drop Navy. And every year I will honor my father’s service, and his loyalty to Notre Dame, (well, both of our loyalty to Notre Dame), and fight to keep the rivalry alive. The rivalry does have meaning and value. What our nation’s military does for each and every one of us every day means something. And we should continue to support our Navy brothers both on and off the field, because as we all know, freedom isn’t free.

God Bless the USA. And GO IRISH!

Cheers & Happy 4th of July!