Do you get it? It's a safe bet Midshipmen will


November 03, 1990|By JOHN EISENBERG

Do you sometimes believe there is this great underlying truth about humanity, and you are the only one who doesn't understand it? That everyone has collaborated on a secret that explains how the world works, and you're the only one excluded? Do you sometimes feel you just don't get it?

No, this is not a commercial for Dianetics. (Do you sweat when you're nervous? See Page 45.) I speak from experience. I felt that way when Ollie North told Congress about violating the Constitution, and the overnight polls backed him up big. I didn't get that. I kept waiting for the phone to ring and someone to explain it to me.

I didn't get the World Series this year. I don't get Barry Manilow. I didn't get it when a football player wiggled his waggle at a woman in the locker room, and the fans booed her at the next game. I don't get why talking on the phone when you're driving 55 mph isn't considered dangerous. I don't get any of the explanations for why the stock market goes up and down.

Notre Dame and Navy are playing another football game today, up at Giants Stadium. I sure don't get that. Why do the schools persist in matching their mismatched teams? And for the life of me, why is the game close to a sellout? Would you pay good money if you absolutely, positively knew beforehand that one team was going to hammer the other down to plasma and protein?

Why is this happening? The teams have played every year since 1927, and it hasn't been a fair fight since Roger Staubach left Annapolis. It was outdated before Nehru jackets were popular. Thirtysomethings were singledigitsomethings when these teams last belonged on the same field. Am I the only one who recognizes this? Or is there a secret explanation to which I am not privileged?

It made perfect sense 30 and 40 years ago, back when Navy was coached by Eddie Erdelatz and Wayne Hardin, and could hang with any team. No game had a cleaner smell. Both teams graduated their players, and no one cheated. The cleanliness is still there today -- although, if you believe what you read, the Golden Domers snort a steroid or two -- but the game has deteriorated to Goliath vs. David sans slingshot.

The Irish have won the past 26 games (15 by at least three touchdowns), a streak encompassing six presidencies. The average score was 34-8. Navy came close once, in 1984, when it lost by a point on a questionable call. Most of the other games have been monster blowouts. The Irish scored 41 last year and could have scored a hundred had they chosen.

Moreover, the mis in mismatch is getting more pronounced. Navy is downscaling, softening its schedule. The Mids just can't recruit top players in these big-money days. The Irish, meanwhile, are at a high-water mark even for them, having lost only two games in the past three seasons under coach Lou Holtz. Their third string would be a good match for the Middies.

So, why are we still subjected to this game? The Middies, as near as I can figure, do it because the paycheck doesn't hurt, and because it makes their softened schedule look better to recruits and alums. The Irish, as near as I can figure, do it ZTC because they need a break in their next-to-impossible schedule, and Navy is the perfect "statement" opponent, possessing that clean smell with which the Irish love to be associated.

I just don't get it. The Middies have swallowed their pride and accepted the softer schedule, but keeping Notre Dame on it is not unlike going on a diet that excludes all desserts except double hot fudge sundaes. The point of down-scaling is to make their games fairer, yet this is the most unfair game of all. (The players say they love getting hammered down to plasma and protein. I'm really out of the loop on that one.)

As for the Irish, we all know how tough their schedule is -- if I had a nickel for each time Holtz mentioned it, I'd be rich -- but shouldn't they find an "off-week" opponent that will press them at least a little? Navy can't even beat James Madison. How can the Irish look at themselves in the mirror? This isn't a game. It's an exhibition. It's a win for the Middies if they don't get any legs broken.

There just aren't any good reasons for playing on. Well, actually, there is one: Watching Holtz's verbal contortions, which belong in the Football Coaches' Hall of Fame. (Don't miss the Sansabelt slacks exhibit if you go.) He downgrades the Irish and pumps up the Mids so relentlessly that you'd think the Irish were playing the Redskins.

Of course, the biggest mystery of all is the attendance. There was a big crowd at Memorial Stadium in 1988. This year, the game is hundreds of miles from the campuses, and it's the biggest mismatch of the year, and you can't buy a decent seat. If you understand that, you must be able to talk to dolphins. (Memo to ticket-holders: You'll get about 20 minutes of Rocket.)

I should point out that I've been absolved before for not "getting it." I never got Roseanne Barr, for instance. Turns out I was just ahead of my time. I never got 8-track cassettes. Was I wrong? I'm afraid, however, that Navy-Notre Dame offers no such hope. They are scheduled to play at least through 1993. They seem to think it's a terrific idea. It's enough to make a man paranoid. I ask you: Is it them or me?

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