The last time Navy beat Notre Dame, in 1963, Roger Staubach was the catalyst in a 35-14 victory at South Bend. During the ensuing 18 games, all Irish triumphs, Navy has been outscored by 625-128. Over the last three games, the Midshipmen have not scored a point.
Notre Dame was a two-touchdown pick yesterday for the 56th meeting between the teams Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., and, with Navy missing quarterback Marco Pagnanelli and several others, that differential likely will increase by kickoff time.
For the second straight season, Navy has the misfortune to catch the Irish coming off two poor performances. A year ago, Notre Dame rebounded by 38-0. There is every reason to expect a similar resurgence this time, with exams concluded at South Bend and Coach Gerry Faust and his team feeling alumni and media heat after Saturday's 13-13 tie with winless Oregon.
Despite the historical imbalance and the poor prospects for reversing it, there is no desire in Annapolis to terminate the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football. To the contrary, Navy people, in a tradition dating back more than 200 years to John Paul Jones, welcome the challenge.
"I'm always concerned about scheduling too many tough ones and lately that's all I seem to be doing," said Athletic Director Bo Coppedge. "Next year, we go to Mississippi State and Washington, two schools that have taken a big leap forward since I arranged the games.
"But Notre Dame is the last team I'd ever want to drop. Not only is it a great relationship, but Notre Dame gives a certain amount of credibility to our goals. Those goals may be unattainable for our program, but we like to think we can attain them. Our players certainly look forward to playing Notre Dame. And this week I truly think we can win."
"I always like to play Notre Dame," said Coach Gary Tranquill. "It gets you jacked up a little bit. They have a great reputation and a solid football team. It motivates you a little more. The players seem to be excited about it."
The Notre Dame game is a positive factor in Navy's recruiting and Coppedge recalled an embarrassing incident to illustrate the point.
"We had an outstanding running back a few years ago named Bob Jackson, who never said much of anything," Coppedge recalled. "He was interviewed one day and he said, 'The only reason I came here was to play against Notre Dame.' It wasn't the best comment as far as our relations with Army were concerned, but I've discovered that a number of our young men have similar feelings."
Jackson was a member of the 1974 Navy team that led the Irish, 6-0, in the fourth quarter before losing, 14-6.
None of this year's seniors has seen the Midshipmen come that close, or even produce a point. Navy's last score came in the closing minute in Cleveland in 1978, when the Irish beat an unbeaten Navy team, 27-7.
If the outlook is bleak for the Midshipmen, it offers little solace for Faust. After the Oregon debacle, when it took a last-minute field goal for the Irish to pull out a tie, the cries for his head could be heard.
Obviously, Navy is a no-win situation for the embattled coach. All the alumni and camp followers expect the usual runaway, for which Faust would receive no credit. Anything less would be compounding earlier disasters.
"We think Navy is one of the finest football teams in the country," Faust said on the phone today. "When you play Arkansas, 17 to 29, you're pretty tough offensively and pretty tough defensively. The Boston College game was a lot closer than the score (31-0) indicates. When you're playing football teams of that caliber, and do that well, you're a solid team.
"We just want to win. If we'd won the Arizona game by one point, I'd have been happy. And if we'd won the Oregon game by one point, I'd have been happy. The big thing is to win. I wish more people in the media understood that.
"We were winning early and all everybody talked about was how we weren't scoring. Maybe I ought to ban newspapers from the players. It puts things in the kids' minds. Instead of being happy with a win, they wind up worrying why they aren't scoring more."