SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As a former captain of the Navy football team, Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, now superintendent at the Naval Academy, looked forward to each year's game against Notre Dame.
"I think one of the biggest thrills in college football is to have the opportunity to compete against Notre Dame," Lynch said earlier this week. "It represents the ultimate challenge in college sports, especially football."
During Lynch's Navy years, the Midshipmen responded to that challenge by winning three of four games against the Fighting Irish. But since Navy, with Lynch as its captain, defeated Notre Dame, 35-14, in 1963, Navy has lost to Notre Dame 27 consecutive times in the longest continuous intersectional rivalry college football.
With that streak in the rivalry -- rather, series -- expected to reach 28 games this afternoon when fifth-ranked Notre Dame (7-1) plays host to Navy (0-7) at Notre Dame Stadium, the question arises: should the games continue?
"That's not my decision, it's up to the Naval Academy and Notre Dame," Irish coach Lou Holtz said this week. "It's my understanding that the Naval Academy desires to play Notre Dame. So Navy's our opponent, and we'll make the best preparation we can and we'll bring whatever weapons we have."
Despite lopsided scores such as 52-31 and 41-0 the past two years, ask any Navy player or administrator and you will find Holtz is right. Navy does not mind giving its best against the
"We all mind losing, but our men are anxious to go out there, and Notre Dame will know it will be facing one heck of a football team," Lynch said. "Years from now, our men will be happy to have competed against Notre Dame."
Entering last year's game against Notre Dame, Navy was 3-4 with a sputtering offense that cost the team in an embarrassing 16-7 homecoming loss to James Madison. But, with a surprise wishbone formation, Navy was tied with Notre Dame, 10-10, at the half and had its biggest scoring day of the season in the 52-31 defeat that exposed Notre Dame's vulnerabilities.
"I don't think they were overlooked; the offense they came out with was just a big surprise," Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer said. "I don't think that will happen this year. We will be ready."
Navy coach George Chaump wouldn't tip his hand to reveal what, if any, surprises are in store for this afternoon. But he appeared to be leaning toward plebe Jim Kubiak as the starting quarterback, instead of Jason Van Matre, who likely will play tailback.
"It's not easy to play college football without experience and Kubiak, to his credit, has done a fine job," Chaump said. "Kubiak is getting better and better at quarterback. We haven't forgotten Van Matre as a quarterback, but we do like him at tailback."
Even though the game is a mismatch on paper, Holtz said he let his players know exactly what's at stake.
"Every goal we set before the season is still alive, so this game is as important to us as any we will play," Holtz said.
If the game is not over for Navy in the first half, it's likely to be over by the second. The Midshipmen have been outscored, 111-20, during the final two periods this season. But when Chaump walks off the field with his players afterward, he'll only look forward to next year's game.
"Our players will play Notre Dame, and everyone will be proud -- I guarantee that," Chaump said. "I'd like to see them on our schedule forever."
Notre Dame vs. Navy
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Notre Dame. . .Navy
Current streak. . . . . . . . . . Won 6. . . . . Lost 8
Avg. pts. per game.. . . . . . . . 38.6. . . . . .15
Avg. weight of offensive line. . . 283. pounds.. 276 pounds
National titles. . . . . . . . . . 11. . . . . . 1
Heisman winners. . . . . . . . . . 7. . . . . . . 2
All-time 1st-team All-Americas. . .164. . . . . . 29
All-time wins. . . . . . . . . . . 699. . . . . . 540
All-time losses. . . . . . . . . . 207. . . . . . 405