Beating Notre Dame is no joke to confident Mids

Phil Jackman

October 29, 1992|By Phil Jackman

ANNAPOLIS -- Annually, almost without fail, a fairly large group of truth-seekers shows up at the Naval Academy the week of the Notre Dame game almost in a state of mourning.

"What is it going to take to beat Notre Dame?" is usually the first question asked, and the interrogators bite their lips to keep from guffawing.

It's as if someday they expect to see the white flag of surrender hanging over Hubbard Hall with the coach inside insisting, "Seriously, we don't have a prayer."

Thing is, even in the throes of a wretched season, the 0-6 Middies are not awed by the task at hand.

"We have a confident attitude; not cocky, confident," says Duke Ingraham, the senior tailback who had 105 yards rushing against Delaware on Saturday. The Blue Hens, though, are not the Fighting Irish.

"Granted," says Ingraham, "but if we play our game, there's no telling what can happen. If we're on, it's tough to stop us. And our defense this year is much better than last year with better guys playing it."

In the face of Navy accomplishments to date -- back-to-back-to-back shutout losses at the start, followed by three more setbacks -- Ingraham was asked what constitutes "our game," and when's the last time it was on display.

"Army, last year," was the reply. "And we've played a couple of halves this year. We're going to go all four quarters soon and when we do I know we'll all be saying, 'Why didn't we do this before?' "

Talk about faith. Who is this man George Chaump, an Elmer Gantry in coach's clothing?

Actually, no Middie coach has ever had a problem getting the troops to believe as faith, it seems, is passed out with the shoes, socks, pads and uniforms the first day of practice.

"You probably get sick of hearing these cliches, just like I get sick of repeating them, but the plain fact is, if we make no mistakes offensively, none defensively and in our kicking game, we can be in it," said Chaump.

That simple, huh?

"Of course, it would help if we had a 300-pound offensive line like Stanford [which defeated Notre Dame]. But it wasn't the offensive scheme, it was the defense and field position that won for Stanford," said the coach.

"So many unpredictable things can happen that you can't forecast anything with certainty. There's always a chance. Don't underestimate the power of the human will."

Bob Goodson, senior defensive end, seemed even more confident than Ingraham. "This team is so much more together than it was last year," he said. "Our attitude is good, we're working harder and we play better defense now.

"The problem we had with Delaware is we played down to its level [Division I-AA]. For Notre Dame, we'll strap it on tighter and pick up the pace."

Psychologically, something Lou Holtz said the other day should help the Mids. The Irish coach pointed out, "Every time we've played Navy in Baltimore or at the Meadowlands, we've had to fight for our lives. I don't know what Navy's going to do, but they'll come up with something."

Goodson remembers last year when Navy out-rushed the Irish, 234-180. "And we held [fullback] Jerome Bettis to about 60 yards, his worst of the season."

Two years ago, at Giants Stadium, the Mids scored 31 points. In 1988, in Baltimore, Navy was very competitive before losing, 22-7.

Similar to Chaump, former Navy coach and now Virginia mentor George Welsh used to preach, "You never know what's going to happen. That's why we play the games."

The truth in this statement was in evidence in 1976 in Ann Arbor when the Mids outplayed a Rose Bowl-bound Michigan team by a wide margin only to trail at halftime, 14-10. Trouble is, the Wolverines scored 56 unanswered points in the second half.

"It's weird, but I feel confident," Ingraham said. He was so serious, no one snickered.

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