Can Navy again prevail on ND-day?

History on Irish's side, as Mids haven't beaten Notre Dame since 1963

October 30, 1999|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN STAFF

President John F. Kennedy was still alive. The Beatles were a phenomenon in the making. Most Americans had never heard of a small Asian nation called Vietnam.

The year was 1963, the day the 2nd of November, when the Naval Academy football team invaded South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame with soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach at quarterback.

Navy, which later finished second in the national rankings, beat an Irish squad undergoing a transition under interim coach Hugh Devore, 35-14. The Midshipmen have not celebrated a victory in the series since.

In the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country, the Irish have prevailed 35 straight times, an NCAA record for consecutive wins over one opponent. And today, Notre Dame will be strongly favored to make it 36 when they meet before more than 80,000 fans at Notre Dame Stadium.

"We need to play them at Guadalcanal or somewhere like that," Staubach joked when reached at the real estate firm he heads in Dallas. "Maybe that would stop that streak."

The quarterback who later led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl titles and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Staubach has fond memories of the last Navy triumph against the Irish, one orchestrated by coach Wayne Hardin, who said after the victory that if Staubach "doesn't win the Heisman Trophy this year, the game's crooked."

"We were a really good team that year," Staubach said. "We had beaten Michigan and we went in there pretty confident. And they were kind of in the middle [2-3 record at the time]. The next year Ara Parseghian came in and things changed."

Three years after losing to Navy, Notre Dame was the national champion despite an infamous 10-10 tie with Michigan State, a result secured by Parseghian's controversial decision to play for the tie.

Staubach remembers that the Midshipmen "started kind of slowly" in 1963, "and it was a tight game for a while. But we began using a few option plays we put in that were kind of new" and Navy began to assert itself.

A native of Cincinnati, Staubach was a Notre Dame fan in his youth. "The place had such a great history and when we played them there, my parents and my girlfriend, later my wife, were at the game. It was a thrill to be there."

Two of Staubach's teammates, receiver Edward Orr and fullback William Donnelly, were key players on the offense and continue to work with the quarterback in the real estate business.

But the incident "Roger The Dodger" remembers most about the game involved Gary Kellner.

"He caught a touchdown pass and as he was slowing down in the end zone, his feet went out from under him. It was like he slipped on a banana peel," said Staubach, who found the incident humorous. "It was a good time, that game. The defense played well and it was a complete team win."

A 21-point, third-quarter burst put it away for Navy.

Notre Dame has routed the Midshipmen more often than not in the interim, including a 30-0 romp last season at then-Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. There have been few legitimate chances for Navy to break the drought.

One came two years ago in South Bend when "we were winning most of the game before they got us on a late drive," said Navy linebacker Daryl Hill.

Notre Dame escaped, 21-17, in 1997, the narrowest winning margin in the series since an 18-17 win at the Meadowlands in 1984.

"Sure, we're pretty aware of the streak and this is definitely a big game," Hill added. "Everybody likes to play big-time opposition. But I really don't pay attention to what kind of helmets the opponent is wearing."

The mystique of the Irish is present for at least some of the Navy players.

"I have never been there," said defensive end Michael Wagoner. "I watched them on TV as a kid, but you never think of yourself being there in the game. Sit there and look up at Touchdown Jesus, that's something."

Coach Charlie Weatherbie said at his weekly news conference that quarterback Brian Madden -- making his first start in place of injured Brian Broadwater -- will "have a chance to make history. I think we will go out there and play well against them."

It certainly won't be as excruciating for Staubach as last week. The ultimate Navy quarterback left in the third quarter of the homecoming game against Akron with the Midshipmen leading, 29-13. Akron rallied to win, 35-29.

"I was sitting there in the airport trying to get the final score and when I heard it, I got sick," he said. "I didn't expect to hear that."

If he hears a final report noting a Notre Dame victory this week, it will be, well, business as usual. In this series, Navy has lost so often, it has nothing left to lose.

Navy today

Opponent: Notre Dame

Site: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

When: 2: 30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (1300 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Line: Notre Dame by 27

Lost cause

Navy has lost 35 straight games to Notre Dame since 1963, when Roger Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 35-14 win.

Year ............Score .............Site

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