For Alota, win would be best revenge Navy co-captain once dreamed of playing for Irish

November 01, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Growing up in San Diego, Saturday afternoons in the fall were a ritual for Gervy Alota, senior linebacker and co-captain of the Navy football team.

"Every high school kid who had aspirations of playing college football wanted to play for Notre Dame," he said. "We'd tune in to all their games and visualize ourselves playing in their stadium with 'Touchdown Jesus' looking down on us.

"Realistically, I knew, as a 150-pound linebacker, I'd never be big enough to play for Notre Dame. But going to the Naval Academy and playing them every year was the second-best thing. We were the 'rejects' playing against a team with all the blue-chip prep stars. Like they say, 'If you can't join them, it's best to beat them.' "

No one has experienced more frustration at that challenge than Alota, getting his fourth and final crack at the Irish today.

Each of the losses left a mental scar, and the memories of the three beatings remain vivid.

"I think I'm the only one on this team that started against Notre Dame as a freshman," he said.

"I've got to admit that I was in awe and glassy-eyed running on the field at Notre Dame Stadium for the first time in 1994 -- a plebe starting against a top 10 team on national TV and playing before 60,000 hostile fans.

"You feel like a kid in a candy store, knowing all the football tradition that place holds. And I was jumping up and down on the sidelines when [quarterback] Jim Kubiak put us ahead with a touchdown pass.

"But they kicked our butts that day [58-21]. And I remember their coach, Lou Holtz, using an onside kick, calling time and having his third-string quarterback throw a touchdown pass in the last seconds. Thay left a real bad taste in my mouth. Since then, playing Notre Dame has become all business for me."

Losing to the Irish, 35-17, in 1995 might have been an even more bitter experience for Alota and the Midshipmen.

"We dominated every statistic but the scoreboard," he said. "We played our hearts out, but it seemed like every call went against us. [Quarterback] Ben Fay did a great job passing and running, and we were up at the half, even though we had three touchdowns called back.

"The odd thing about that game was that we knocked Ron Powlus out of the game, and their backup, Tom Krug, came in, threw a couple of touchdown passes and got carried off the field. It should have been Ben Fay."

Alota, who leads the Navy defense in tackles, believes that too many of his teammates treated last year's meeting with the Irish in Ireland as "a vacation" and absorbed a 54-27 trouncing.

"We were acting like tourists in Dublin and lost our focus. You can't do that against a school like Notre Dame."

It will be up to Alota and co-captain and quarterback Chris McCoy to get the rest of the Mids fired up for today's game.

"Playing Notre Dame is always important for the Naval Academy," said McCoy. "It's like our measuring stick. But we also have to win this game to keep our bowl hopes alive."

In an otherwise brilliant season, McCoy felt only frustration in his first start against Notre Dame when he was held to minus-16 yards rushing. Ironically, the only time he crossed the scrimmage line at Dublin's Croke Park was in completing a long pass that was nullified by the offside penalty.

"The field was horrible," McCoy recalled. "They used helicopters before the game to dry the surface, but you couldn't get any footing. We never got any momentum going."

Even though they are playing today at Notre Dame, McCoy believes the Mids may have some advantages this time.

"Last year, they had two weeks to get ready for us and had played Air Force the week before, getting to work against the option," he said. "This year, we're the first option team they've faced."

Even though Notre Dame (3-5) appears headed for its first losing season since 1986, the Irish remain 17-point favorites to add to their 33-game winning streak against the Mids.

"Notre Dame is still Notre Dame," McCoy said. "They've lost to a lot of top teams -- Michigan, Stanford and Southern Cal.

"We have to play them as if they were unbeaten. For the seniors, this is our last shot at them. We've got to put on our heavy armor and go to war."

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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