That’s it. This year’s Navy “home” game was supposed to be played in Dublin, which, last I looked, is in Ireland. Some Navy home game. What is Notre Dame’s nickname again?
But that’s the way the series has been forever: Notre Dame’s home games are played in Notre Dame Stadium; Navy’s are played in places such as Dublin, Orlando, San Diego, the Meadowlands and Baltimore. Other than Dublin, Navy’s home locations are NFL stadiums or ones that seat at least 65,000 people, such as the one in Orlando. More often than not, the majority of fans wear green and gold, not blue and gold.
You will be shocked to learn that there’s one reason the game has never been played inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium: money. Navy’s home stadium can squeeze 38,792 people inside — that’s the record. That’s not enough for the folks at Navy or Notre Dame, because playing in a stadium almost double in size means the financial take will be almost double in size.
Years ago, I suggested to Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk that the school just raise ticket prices for the Notre Dame game. I doubt many people would object; Notre Dame remains an iconic name in college football even though it last won a national title in 1988, and I doubt many Navy fans would object to paying extra to see the Irish play in Annapolis. Needless to say, my suggestion fell on deaf ears.
I have never been a big fan of this rivalry, and I know I’m very much in the minority. The reason: It’s not even close to a level playing field, and the premise given for playing the game is false. Every year, the Navy and Notre Dame public relations machines put out the same tired story about how Navy helped Notre Dame stay afloat (no pun intended) during World War II by setting up a training station on campus and paying the school for the use of its facilities at a time when the school was in serious financial trouble.
Every year the same tired quotes are trotted out about the bonds between the schools and that Notre Dame has continued the series because it is so grateful to Navy for what took place 75 years ago.
Notre Dame continues the series because it should be an easy win that no one will ever criticize and because it never has to play a road game. Here’s a fact: Navy never should beat Notre Dame. The Irish have every advantage: an unlimited budget, their own TV deal, the ability to recruit based on tradition and all those players in the NFL.
Navy? It has a five-year military requirement after graduation, and even though that requirement has been loosened recently, the chances of a Navy football player making the NFL is tiny compared with one from Notre Dame. More Navy football players have died overseas this century than have played in the NFL.
In the fall of 2016 Navy had a star freshman safety named Alohi Gilman, who played superbly in Navy’s upset of Notre Dame that fall. Gilman, who’s from Hawaii, had known Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo since boyhood, and Niumatalolo had spoken often at clinics put on by Gilman’s father.
But Gilman and his family became convinced that Gilman had a future in the NFL. Gilman decided to transfer — to Notre Dame. Niumatalolo was justifiably upset, largely because he thought Gilman was making a mistake but also because the Irish recruited Gilman aggressively. So much for all those longtime bonds between the two schools. Gilman was drafted in the sixth round by the Los Angeles Chargers in April.
During one stretch, Notre Dame beat Navy 43 times in a row, a streak that ended in 2007. Navy has now won four times in the past 13 years, which is borderline miraculous and a tribute to the players and the coaching staff. Navy has won twice at Notre Dame and twice at “neutral” sites. Last year both schools finished 11-2. The Irish beat the Mids, 52-20.
Now, if there is a game this year, it will be played in Annapolis. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, attendance isn’t the factor it usually is because at a minimum there will be social distancing in any stadium. Assuming that’s the case, then here’s who should be there: The 4,000 members of the Brigade of Midshipmen and Navy season ticket holders. Notre Dame fans can watch on television. It might be the only time the Mids have the chance to play with something approaching a home-field advantage. Notre Dame is scheduled to play six home games this season. If fans are allowed to attend, they will have plenty of chances to see the Irish play.
I think it’s great that Navy finally will host a game in this series. It’s a shame it took an ongoing worldwide tragedy. It would be great if the academy’s leadership would stop taking the easy way to collecting a big check and do what’s best for the Midshipmen they claim to cherish so much: play future home games in Annapolis and tell the fans they’re going to be charged extra to do what’s best for the players.
I’m not holding my breath.