There is no one willing to argue with the cold, hard facts of this week's Navy-Notre Dame game. The Fighting Irish have beaten the Mids 38 straight times, an NCAA record for consecutive victories over an opponent. And more than a few of those games have been blowouts in favor of Notre Dame.
But it's also true that a couple of times in the past few years, the Midshipmen have put a heck of a scare into the Irish. In 1997, Navy lost just 21-17, and in 1999, Notre Dame needed a last-minute, fourth-down conversion to keep an eventual game-winning drive alive in a 28-24 victory.
So is there any way this year's 1-7 Navy team can keep things close enough to have a similar shot at the No. 9 Irish (8-1) on Saturday at Ravens Stadium?
"Yeah, if we can get them to fumble eight times and throw two interceptions, that would help," said Navy coach Paul Johnson, referring to Notre Dame's sloppy performance Saturday against Boston College in a 14-7 loss.
Johnson, however, doesn't see that as a likely scenario.
"It's been my experience when I've been around really good football teams that you don't want anything to do with them after they lose one," he said.
And even though Navy is already a 28-point underdog, a lot of the Mids' players would have preferred to see the Irish beat Boston College, if only for the chance to play against an undefeated team with a shot at the national championship.
"I was definitely cheering for them [Saturday]," said Navy sophomore safety Josh Smith. "If someone was going to knock them off, I wanted us to have the chance to do it."
Johnson does have some experience coaching in big games against the Irish. In 1995, he was Navy's offensive coordinator when the Mids hung tough in South Bend, Ind., before losing 35-17. In 1996, he was calling plays again when the teams met in Dublin, Ireland and Notre Dame won easily, 54-27.
"I don't know much about the past," Johnson said. "I know we have to play better than we've played all year to have a chance."
Backing the Mids
This year's Navy-Notre Dame game will mark the 20th time the two teams have played in Baltimore. All 19 previous games were held at Memorial Stadium or its 33rd Street predecessor, Municipal Stadium. The last was in 1988, when eventual national champion Notre Dame held on for a 22-7 victory.
Even though the game is technically a home game for Navy, Johnson was asked if there was a possibility the Mids might face a pro-Notre Dame crowd on Saturday. After all, Navy has one win and rarely makes TV appearances, whereas Notre Dame has a large national following and is on television every week.
"I'm sure Notre Dame sells a lot of tickets," Johnson said. "I'm sure they'll have a pretty good following. But I would venture to bet that if we could get up on them and stay in the game that we would have a lot of fans pulling for us. Most people kind of like the underdog."
Navy junior linebacker Ben Mathews and freshman slot back Sam Mathews have an interesting family tie-in to this week's game. Their grandfather, Bill Gompers, was a three-year letterman at halfback for Notre Dame from 1945 to 1947, and helped the Irish with a national championship in 1947. Gompers also ran for a touchdown against Navy in 1946 in a 28-0 Irish victory at Municipal Stadium.
Defensive tackle Josh Brindel, who made seven tackles (two for loss) and forced a fumble last year against Notre Dame, will miss his fifth straight game with a neck injury. Johnson said Brindel, a preseason honors candidate, will likely be out for the rest of the season.
Next for Navy
Opponent:No. 9 Notre Dame
TV/Radio:Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM, WNAV (1430 AM)
Line:Notre Dame by 28