Irish anchor weighs on Mids Navy history lesson: After Staubach win, 33 consecutive losses

October 30, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

No college football rivalry has been more one-sided than the Notre Dame-Navy series that continues in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday. The Irish have won the past 33 meetings, an NCAA record for consecutive victories over an opponent.

The Midshipmen (3-3) say that this season they have a realistic chance of beating the Irish (3-5), who are struggling under first-year coach Bob Davie.

It is hardly a coincidence that the last time Navy beat Notre Dame, Nov. 2, 1963, a junior quarterback named Roger Staubach was running a high-powered offense that averaged more than 30 points. The Mids finished the regular season 9-1 and were ranked No. 2 before losing to top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Staubach was a landslide choice for the Heisman Trophy. Now 55, a Super Bowl MVP, Hall of Famer and president of a brokerage firm in the Dallas area, Staubach says the memory of the Mids' 35-14 rout of the Irish at Notre Dame 34 years ago is still fresh.

"I remember being real nervous playing in South Bend for the first time," he said. "I had my family and my future wife, Marianne, watching me play. Being from the Midwest, like most high school kids, I'd always dreamed of playing for Notre Dame."

A standout at Purcell High in Cincinnati, Staubach received scholarship offers from Purdue and Ohio State, but Notre Dame failed to show any interest until he excelled in an Ohio high school all-star game, playing quarterback and safety.

"By that time, I had committed to the Naval Academy," he said.

Staubach did not make Notre Dame's talent scouts pay immediately for this error of judgment. As a sophomore, he suffered a frustrating 20-12 loss to the Irish in Philadelphia. The game was played in a mini-hurricane that all but buckled the goal posts.

"It was rainy, windy and cold, but we were still winning 12-7 in the fourth quarter when Daryle Lamonica threw a long touchdown pass to a back [Dennis Phillips] who was wide open."

But Staubach and the Mids were primed for Notre Dame the next fall. Nicknamed "Roger the Dodger" for his Houdini-like scrambling ability, he first grabbed the attention of the national media with a brilliant performance against Michigan in Ann Arbor in which he ran and passed for 307 total yards in a 26-13 win over the Wolverines.

"He's the greatest college quarterback I've ever seen," Michigan coach Bump Elliott said. "He not only runs and passes, but his play selection and direction of his team is unequaled."

The most-frequent question Navy coach Wayne Hardin heard was why it took him until four games into Staubach's sophomore season to make him his starting quarterback.

Hardin said: "I always believed in going with experience at

quarterback, and Roger didn't have any. But luckily, our regular quarterback [senior Ron Klemick] got hurt against Cornell, Roger's sophomore season, and I was forced to go with Staubach.

"I first saw him play as a plebe. We scrimmaged them with the varsity, and no one could catch Staubach. He kept scrambling and completing pass after pass. I was so mad. I ordered three days of extra practice. But later, I discovered it wasn't our bad tackling, it was just Roger."

In time, Hardin would match Elliott's praise of Staubach's athletic gifts and leadership ability.

"We all have five senses, but Roger was blessed with a sixth one -- anticipation," said his former coach, now retired. "He had an uncanny ability for knowing when a big tackle was about to grab him around the head, sort of built-in radar.

"Perhaps the greatest play I ever saw him make was in that game his junior year at Michigan. We had a first down on their 45. They blitzed and two guys chased Roger back all the way back to our 35.

"They both hit him at the same time and had Roger parallel to the ground. One guy twisted his arm, but somehow he got the pass away and completed it to [fullback] Pat Donnelly for a 1-yard gain."

A month later, Staubach was less spectacular against Notre Dame, but the victory was more satisfying.

"Beating Notre Dame in their stadium and my two wins against Army were the highlights of my college career," he said.

"It's true, Notre Dame was down that year [the Irish would finish 2-7 that season under Hugh Devore], "but they still had some exceptional players like Jim Kelly and Jack Snow.

"I had a decent day [114 total yards], but Donnelly had an exceptional afternoon running the ball," Staubach said of his fullback and fellow Ohioan who gained 127 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown run.

In the opening game of his senior season, Staubach suffered a severe ankle injury and was a part-time starter the rest of the season. His last appearance against Notre Dame was an embarrassing 40-0 loss in Philadelphia that started the Irish's long dominance of Navy.

Staubach still maintains a strong interest in Navy football and has occasionally counseled Mids quarterbacks, including the current one, Chris McCoy.

"I think we've got an excellent chance of beating Notre Dame this year," he said. "I can't understand why we agreed to play them in Ireland last season. If we were willing to do that, why don't they play us in Guadalcanal one year?"

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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