ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 31 -- "Obviously, it is a traditional relationship. But the personal relationships almost transcend the tradition of the game." -Jack Lengyel on Navy-Notre Dame

Navy and Notre Dame renew college football's longest continuous intersectional rivalry Saturday at the Meadowlands and a lot of people probably are wondering why.

Although the Irish have won the last 26 games, by a combined score of 890-219, the game continues to sell out, so there is an important monetary factor. Also, despite an obvious imbalance on the field, there is no lack of respect on either side and old Notre-Damers recall how a Navy V-5 program helped the Irish continue football during the 1940s.

"I had dinner recently with Father {Theodore} Hesburgh," the longtime president of Notre Dame, said Navy Athletic Director Jack Lengyel, "and he said, 'I pray you'll beat us, so we can get this back on track.'

"There isn't a team we play where we have a better relationship. Our home games are at a neutral site and they just tell us, 'Whatever you want, we'll work it out.' And our football players genuinely love to play them.

"That's why {Coach} George Chaump is here, so we can build our program back up to where we can compete with Notre Dame and others. You stay the course. It's easy to jump ship, but that's not our policy."

Chaump and Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz were assistants under Woody Hayes in 1968, when Ohio State enjoyed an undefeated, national championship season, and Holtz said, "The Naval Academy will be a very, very fine football team in the future, because George has won everywhere he's been."

As for the present, well, Holtz and Chaump spent a lot of time this week exchanging reminiscences, no doubt the better to limit conversation about the game itself, in which the Irish are 35-point favorites.

"George and I roomed together on the road and shared ideas and laughs," Holtz said. "I enjoyed him tremendously. But I'm not sure he enjoyed everything about me. One night I was the emcee at a banquet and I borrowed George's new Chevrolet. I left the keys in, never thinking it would be stolen, but it turned out it was. I never felt that bad."

"It was a brand-new 1968 Impala and they found it a month later," Chaump added. "I didn't even recognize it. It was totally stripped. I hope I can get even with him some day.

"He's the kind of guy who could fall in a manure heap and come up with a diamond ring. That year at Ohio State, we were getting ready to play Purdue, which had beaten us by forty-some points the year before. Lou said, 'We're going to shut them out.' Another assistant bet him $100 to $1 on it and somehow we stopped them, 13-0. Lou put the $100 bill in a frame. He always was one for bargains.

"After he beat West Virginia two years ago for the national championship, we went out to dinner and he paid for it and said, 'I'm a millionaire now.' I told him, 'Well, I guess I had to wait till you were a millionaire to get you to buy dinner.' "

Although Chaump's first Navy team is stumbling along at a 3-4 pace, he said he has not asked Holtz, whose Irish are 6-1 and ranked second in the nation, to be merciful for old time's sake.

"We're not giving up," Chaump said. "We're not frightened out of our jockey shorts. We realize they're talented, big and strong. But I've seen bigger upsets in athletics in my lifetime. We hope that every man can play his best game and the ball will bounce our way a few times."

Chaump said Alton Grizzard would start at quarterback and indicated he might stick to a conservative offense, rather than risk the turnovers that helped No. 1 Virginia bury the Midshipmen, 56-14.

"We're not intimidated by Notre Dame," Grizzard said. "They're bigger, faster and stronger, so we're going to have to out-execute them, find a weakness if they have one and exploit it.

"Every team in this country can be beaten by any other team on a given day. I'd like to be able to say we beat them and I'm sure everybody else feels the same way. You try to think of one little thing that will spark people, anything that will make it click.

"Right now I have only one memory -- beating Army last year -- and for three years of football, that's not much. I'd like to have more memories. And if this game is going to help our program at all, we need a win. If Notre Dame beats us 21-20 we still lost. If anybody is satisfied just being on the field with them and playing tough, then they probably shouldn't be on the field with them."