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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame VS Navy - Ireland Edition, 1996

Far and Away - Navy

Retrospective - American Football in Ireland
2 November 1996; Notre Dame players acknowledge supporters after the game. Shamrock Classic, Navy v Notre Dame, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Photo by Sportsfile/Corbis/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The Notre Dame season opener is so close, I can almost smell it. In just two short days Notre Dame will face off against the Naval Academy in Aviva Stadium, in Dublin, Ireland, this Saturday, August 26th. I have never attended a Notre Dame VS Navy game in Ireland before, so I am very much looking forward to making the trip this year. Today I’d like to look back at the 1996 match-up between Notre Dame and Navy that also took place in Dublin, Ireland. I am going to share an excerpt from the 1996 Scholastic Magazine Football Review, written by Jim Blaum. I am also going to share some memories from my best friend, Tammy Holtz, and her little sister, Jen Armstrong, who was in the Naval academy back in 1996, and traveled over to Ireland for the game.

But first, a little bit about the rivalry. Notre Dame and Navy have played each other a total of 95 times, with Notre Dame leading the series 79-13-1 (.855). Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 56-7 in 1970, and Navy’s largest margin of victory was 33-7 in 1956. Notre Dame’s longest win streak is 43 (1964-2006), and Navy’s longest win streak is 2 (1933-1934).

Far and Away - Navy

by Jim Blaum

Two weeks after suffering an unthinkable and heartbreaking overtime loss to Air Force at home, one might have expected the Irish to run away from Navy, which had defeated the Falcons. And run they did. The Irish ran all the way to Croke Park in. Dublin, Ireland, and they kept on running over the Navy defense and into the NCAA record books.

Navy came into the game overflowing with momentum, hoping to drown a Notre Dame team that had just seen its national title hopes go down the drain. Sporting an impressive record of 5-1, the Midshipmen were off to their best start since 1979. Fresh off a 47-18 rout of Wake Forest, Navy entered its annual meeting with the Irish owning the third-best rushing offense in the nation and sporting the same wishbone attack that had baffled the Irish two weeks earlier. But, in a game touted as “The Shamrock Classic,” it wouldn’t be wise to bet against the Irish.

The matchup marked the 70th straight season these two teams have met. The Irish led the series 59-9-1 going in, and left with a 54-27 win, setting an NCAA record for the longest winning streak by one team over another.

The outcome, however, was just one of several similarities between this game and the one played last year at Notre Dame Stadium. Like 1995, the Irish entered the game with two defeats. Like 19995, they had nothing to play for but respect and a trip to a major bowl game. And like 1995, the Irish tasted victory, but this time they did it their way, Holtz’s way.

Last year, the Midshipmen slammed quarterback Ron Powlus to a season-ending injury and held the Irish at bay until the third quarter, when backup quarterback Tom Krug threw two touchdown passes to Derrick Mayes, giving Notre Dame a 35-17 victory. In that game, the Irish threw for about the same number of yards they ran for. That’s not Lou Holtz football. But this year things were different.

In the week leading up to the showdown in Dublin, Holtz had announced that senior tailback Randy Kinder would start in place of sophomore Autry Denson, who had failed to impress the coach with his 14-carry, 46- yard performance against Air Force. “I just don’t think we have the best chance to win right now with Autry Denson at tailback,” Holtz said.

So Kinder entered the lineup, ran for just eight yards on three carries and ran right back to the sideline. After failing to achieve a first down on the opening series, Holtz replaced Kinder with, who else, Denson. Some say Holtz should have started Denson, who had accounted for 112 of Notre Dame’s 165 yards rushing last year against Navy. Others believe .’ it was simply Holtz’s strategy. “What he did was try to put pressure on Autry and make Autry respond in the game, and he did,” Powlus said after the game.

Denson carried 16 times for 12~ yards, including a 33-yard touchdown scamper just before halftime, which made the score 21-7 and sank the Midshipmen.

“You have to be prepared for the unexpected,” Denson said. “During games, Coach Holtz usually goes to the hot back, and fortunately today I was the hot back.”

Want more of this review? Keep reading here.

Here are some thoughts from my best friend’s little sister, Jen Armstrong (and a photo from the game).

Gerry, Jen, Grandpa, and Tammy Holtz at the 1996 matchup between Notre Dame and Navy.
Image courtesy of Tammy Holtz

Navy - Notre Dame, 1996 (part I) by Jen Armstrong

In the fall of 1996, Notre Dame played Navy in Dublin Ireland. The residents of Dublin had no idea about this crazy American football game. However, they tried to make us all feel welcome.

Near the stadium the day before the game, the city hosted a pep rally, however they weren’t aware that pep rallies are usually for one of the two teams, not both of them at the same pep rally.

Both Navy and Notre Dame fans were invited to the pep rally and many of the booths were giving out free shots of Irish whiskey to try to compare or to compete against one another.

After a few hours of drinking free shots of Irish whiskey, some Navy and Notre Dame fans were arguing, however many were singing with one another.

The stadium was absolutely gorgeous. They fit an American football field on what is normally a soccer or football field, and fans came out in droves. A lot were for Notre Dame with the Irish. There were a few Navy fans on our side as well. Even though Navy wasn’t as competitive back then, it was still a fun game with lots of memories.

And here are some thoughts from my best friend, Tammy Holtz, about their experience in Ireland for the game.

Jenelle Armstrong and Tammy Holtz, Ireland 1996
Photo courtesy of Tammy Holtz

Navy - Notre Dame, 1996 (part II) by Tammy Holtz

My little sister, Jenelle, went to Annapolis, and was one of the chosen few that got selected to represent the Naval Academy at the Navy - Notre Dame football game in Ireland, in 1996. Of course, we jumped at the chance to support her and see the sights of Ireland. Two days before we were leaving for our trip I happened to have broken my left wrist. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem but in Ireland everything is opposite from how we drive here in America. Of course I thought that my father would be driving due to my arm being in a cast. I was 25 years old at the time. However, that is not what happened. There were many pep rallies and social events that we were lucky enough to partake in. Most of these events had a form of whiskey or liquor. My father felt the need to indulge whether it was nine in the morning or noon. That left me to be the designated driver’s. My grandfather was also traveling with us and was enjoying himself as much, if not more than, my father. I don’t think I would’ve trusted him to drive sober anyway.

Unfortunately, my father rented a stick shift. Looking back I find this extremely funny. It was almost like an “I Love Lucy” episode each and every day. From what I recall, their street signs were extremely small and on the opposite side of the street, so I never saw them until I passed the street I was supposed to turn on. The end result was that we never got to our destination on the first try; it usually took two or three tries. One day we were particularly lost and I pulled into a gas station to ask directions. I came back out and sat in the car and my dad asked me if I knew where I was going. I responded, “no, I don’t even think what he was saying was English.” My dad laughed and said he would go find out where we needed to go and proceeded inside the gas station. Not long later he came back out laughing and tried to mimic the sounds that he heard the gas station attendant make. We were laughing so hard, because we had no idea what this nice Irishman was saying. Finally, my grandfather went in, and you guessed it, the same result. None of us could understand him, even though we know he was speaking a form of English.

We did as much sightseeing as we could fit in each and every day. We kissed the Blarney Stone. I really wish I would’ve researched what it was used for before I put my lips all over it. We wanted to be one with the people and ate at local pubs, and drank arm and arm with the locals. One day we went into a pub after visiting the annual wool sweater sale, where my father and I bought beautiful cream colored sweaters that we were proudly wearing. I noticed that a lot of people were staring at us. More specifically staring at my father. I thought it was because we were Americans and looked out of place. So I asked the bartender if I was imagining people staring at us. He said, “no, they’re staring at your father,” and I asked him why. He said, “real men don’t wear white sweaters, because real men work with their hands, and the dirt would show on white sweaters, so they would only wear dark colors.” We got such a kick out of that and laughed and laughed and laughed. My dad never wore that beautiful sweater again. It is now mine and I adore it.

Photo courtesy Tammy Holtz

The day of the big game was as electric as any football game or sporting event I have ever been to. It made me so excited for my sister that she was actually a part of this historic day. It made me wish I studied harder and went to a better college so I could feel some of the traditions coursing through my blood like so many people there were feeling. I don’t remember who won or what great plays happened. I do remember being extremely happy, and knowing I was a one of the lucky few that got to witness the sights and sounds of that day. Most of all I have the best memories of my dad, my grandpa, and my sister, that I will forever hold dear to my heart.

Tammy & some Naval Academy men
Photo courtesy of Tammy Holtz

I hope you enjoyed the stories my best friend and her sister shared from their trip to Ireland.

Here’s to making new memories in Ireland!

Cheers & GO IRISH!