Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz took time yesterday to practice up on his life after football -- apparently as a boxing promoter.
In a performance that would have made Don King proud, Holtz -- with a straight face -- managed to build up Navy as a formidable opponent going into this week's game. Navy (3-4) will face the second-ranked Fighting Irish (6-1) Saturday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Navy is coming off an embarrassing, 16-7 loss to Division I-AA James Madison that greatly diminished its dreams of a winning season. But despite the fact that the Midshipmen are averaging just 16.1 points per game in their new offensive system, Holtz had listeners to his weekly news conference believing the Irish were preparing to take on an armed Naval fleet.
"I told our team that this game is for a bowl game, and hopefully we can win on Saturday," Holtz said. "You look at the film, and you're impressed with the Naval Academy defense. Their defense can be the kind that disrupts your offense."
More Holtz on Navy:
"They throw the ball and they know what they're doing. The improvement they've made has been more than remarkable. You have to be impressed with [back-up quarterback] Gary McIntosh, who has come on strong as of late."
And even more:
"They're going to be a much improved team compared to the beginning of the year. If you want to read a book on trick plays, Navy wrote it this year. You have to be ready for everything."
Enough of the Holtz sales pitch. Now a taste of reality.
Although Navy's defense has played well at times, it ranks 65th ** in the nation in points allowed per game (25.0). The Navy passing game can be best described as inconsistent, mainly because quarterbacks Alton Grizzard and McIntosh don't get enough pass protection. And while Navy has already equaled the amount of wins of a year ago, it still hasn't been able to put away inferior opponents, or beat teams that are on its level.
Add the fact that Navy hasn't beaten Notre Dame since 1963 and you are left wondering, why play the game?
Although Naval Academy athletic director Jack Lengyel couldn't reach for comment yesterday, academy officials in the past have indicated the desire to keep intact what has become the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football (Notre Dame leads the series, 53-9-1).
And the players actually look forward to the game, as evidenced by comments made last year by Navy linebacker Bill Bowling after a 41-0 loss in South Bend.
"I love to play teams like this," said Bowling, who was a senior last season. "The tradition and rivalry of Notre Dame, it tests you."
dTC For Notre Dame, the Navy game has become -- despite what Holtz says -- a break in what is one of the toughest football schedules in the country. The schedule has already taken its toll as the team announced yesterday the loss of All-America nose tackle Chris Zorich, who is out indefinitely after suffering a partially dislocated kneecap in Saturday's 31-22 win at Pittsburgh.
"I personally think we'll be without him the rest of the year," Holtz said. "The knee has swelling, and he walks with a limp. It's the same injury he had during spring practice his freshman year.
"I know he wants to play, and he'll do anything to come back. But we won't let him back until he's perfectly healthy."
The injury to Zorich comes at a time the Irish were, according to Holtz, developing into a cohesive unit.
"I think Chris Zorich was as dominating as I've ever seen him in a football game until he got injured," Holtz said. "I don't think we're far from being a really good football team. I don't know what the loss of Chris Zorich will do to that."
Holtz probably won't find out Saturday. The line on the game is 35 points, and could easily be more. Notre Dame's 41 points last year could have been 81 in the shutout victory during which everyone played. Even then senior walk-on Ted "Tank" McNamara scored on his first carry for the Irish.
And Holtz still worries.
"They have good athletes, and they played well against us two years ago," Holtz said of a 22-7 Notre Dame win in Baltimore. "All [we] can do is go out and play as well as we can."