Luck of Irish to end in Dublin? 5-1 Navy is confident 32-game losing streak will end at fitting site

November 02, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DUBLIN, Ireland -- New site, same story. That's the worry facing Navy today when it meets Notre Dame in the Shamrock Classic.

For all the hype surrounding the Fighting Irish's invasion of Ireland, the more compelling angle to this game is Navy's bid to end a 32-game losing streak against Notre Dame.

Ever since Roger Staubach engineered a 1963 triumph over Notre Dame, the Midshipmen have been regularly beaten and battered by Notre Dame in stadiums across America.

Maybe the change of scenery in Ireland will help. Navy (5-1) has never been more confident of staging an upset over the No. 19 Irish (4-2), whose season hit bottom with an overtime loss against Air Force two weeks ago.

"I don't know how you could not be aware of this losing streak," Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "The past is the past, the future is the future, and all we can deal with is now."

Right now, Navy looks sleek and dangerous, riding a three-game winning streak for the first time since 1981. The Midshipmen also are thrilled to be playing inside the most unusual stadium they'll ever see, Croke Park. The stadium is cavernous by American standards, designed for the sweeping play of Gaelic football and hurling. The American football field appears swallowed up by the vast expanse of grass.

"It doesn't matter," Navy linebacker Clint Bruce said. "On the kickoff, we could be in a parking lot in Boise, Idaho.

"This is a special game," Bruce added. "The game of the year. I've only been here for the last three losses, and that's enough for me. If you're a legitimate football player, you go into any game like you've got a chance to win."

A Navy victory would open up a host of possibilities for the Midshipmen.

"I wouldn't say it's the whole season, but if we win this game, we'll definitely have a winning season and probably put ourselves on the way to becoming a bowl team," said quarterback Chris McCoy.

For now, Navy, off to its best start since 1979, has only one sure bowl possibility: the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La. Other openings could become available.

But standing in Navy's way is Notre Dame, trying to restart its season and salvage a bowl appearance of its own. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz is in major poor-mouth mode, which usually means the Irish are on the rebound.

To hear Holtz tell it, he recently has witnessed the most discouraging practice of his coaching career. His team's running game is lousy. And Navy is oh-so dangerous because it doesn't make any mistakes.

"If Notre Dame would have played this Navy team for 33 straight years, there wouldn't be a record [losing streak]," he said.

Why, before the trip to Ireland, Holtz even said, "I feel like a paratrooper at D-Day on coming out of an airplane. You don't know what to expect."

Well, the trip has been anything but unpredictable. For the American fans who descended on Ireland, there was the usual: pep rallies, parades and promises of a giant pre-game tailgate party. For the players, there was practice in the rain, autograph sessions, and sightseeing.

The trick now is to come up with something different.

For Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus, just making it through the game would be nice. In last year's contest against Navy, Powlus broke his left arm.

"I don't have a lot of great memories of last year," he said. "I know they didn't do it on purpose. I received a letter from the Navy captains after the game. That was class."

This year, though, Powlus isn't looking for sympathy from the Midshipmen. He's out to beat them.

"Yeah, I read about their losing streak against us," he said. "We're excited to keep it going."

And Navy would sure like the streak to end.

"These young men believe they can beat anyone," Weatherbie said. "You know, there's a lot of parity in college football. Anything can happen."

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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