Little has changed at Notre Dame, to regret of Navy

November 01, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

As Notre Dame's football team toured the North American Air Defense facilities in Colorado Springs the day after the Air Force game, Beth Holtz spotted a sign that she felt applied to her husband Lou.

It read: "Our goal is perfection and most of the time that is acceptable."

And when you're the coach at Notre Dame, most of the time that is possible.

Little changes at Notre Dame. The Irish may not be perfect, but they are No. 5 in the land with a 7-1 record. When the Irish entertain Navy (0-7) tomorrow, they will play before their 99th consecutive sellout in Notre Dame Stadium and, surely, will become the second team in college history to win 700 games.

Notre Dame currently stands 699-207-40 in its 103rd season of football. Michigan has 718 victories, but the Wolverines have needed nine more seasons to do it.

For the first time in 11 years, Notre Dame is celebrating homecoming. The festivities will include a parade with floats, bands and clowns, and a pep rally tonight under the lights in the stadium with Rocky Bleier, the Irish's 1967 captain, as guest speaker. Tomorrow, in the field house for an hour before the game, old Notre Dame football heroes will sign autographs.

Holtz himself couldn't concoct a better buildup for a game. Not that he needs it this time. Notre Dame has 27 straight victories over Navy in the country's longest continuous intersectional rivalry that began in 1927.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Navy is a great football team because they're not," Holtz said. "But I don't ever want to look back after a game and feel that we had problems because we underrated the opposition."

Yet Holtz, ever the comedian, reckoned that the weather forecast for rain this weekend in South Bend "should be conducive to Navy." When he was asked why, he said, "Navy is associated with water, isn't it?"

Predictably, talk about Notre Dame going to a major bowl started weeks ago. Just as predictably, Holtz labeled the talk premature.

"That's like talking to a guy on a respirator about a handball game next week," he said. "Let's get first things first. Our team still needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a weekly basis."

People tell Holtz he worries too much. He could even find a way to worry about the fact that Notre Dame is a 40 1/2 -point favorite over Navy.

Holtz came into this season warning it would be a rebuilding year for the Irish because of all the players he lost. It was especially painful to lose Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, the mercurial runner who left school a year early for wealth in the Canadian Football League.

"It's still a rebuilding year in this respect," Holtz said. "We're still trying to find life after Rocket. Without Rocket Ismail, we're not a big-play team. You just can't be as consistent as you want to be without a big-play guy."

Notre Dame's bid for perfection was thwarted early. In the second game, theIrish fell to Michigan, 24-14. They came back the following week to pummel Michigan State by 39 points, launching a winning streak that stands now at six.

"Being able to come back after that loss was important," quarterback Rick Mirer said. "We had a lot to prove."

Mirer will be one of Navy's main concerns. With two-thirds of the regular season behind him, the junior has 14 touchdown passes, two shy of the school single-season record shared by three passers, the last Joe Theismann in 1970.

He already has six more scoring passes than in his entire sophomore season. His completion percentage of .567 is a threat to Steve Beuerlein's Irish record of .603. Mirer is discovering what life is like in the fishbowl.

"Because of the visibility, they say that being president of the United States, mayor of New York City, coach at Notre Dame and quarterback at Notre Dame are among the toughest jobs you could possibly have," Mirer said. "I'm beginning to believe that someof that is true."

Just as threatening to Navy is Jerome Bettis, a 5-foot-11, 248-pound sophomore fullback from Detroit who has scored two or more TDs in each of his last five games. With 14 in all, he is within range of Allen Pinkett's Notre Dame record of 18 set in 1983 and matched in '84.

Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry calls Bettis "a load," saying he's bigger than any offensive tackle on the Falcons' roster. A Stanford defensive back, Seyon Albert, says it reached the point where he was trying to figure a way to tackle Bettis without getting maimed.

Bettis praises the line for the "big holes" it provides, pointing out "I don't squeeze through little holes very easily." He adds to his developing mystique by insisting he's insulted "if I'm tackled by just one person."

Said Irish linebacker Demetrius DuBose, "It's like trying to tackle a bull, he's so big. It's hard to get your arms around him. You kind of try to aim for the smallest part of his body, and there's not too many of those."

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