Midshipmen had a chance to make history but got schooled instead

October 17, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Want to know how completely Notre Dame manhandled previously undefeated Navy at Giants Stadium yesterday?

By halftime, I had canceled my Orange Bowl reservations.

USC will have to find somebody else to play for the national championship, but the Commander in Chief's Trophy still looks pretty safe. The Midshipmen remain the class of the military set, but they were out-muscled by the Fighting Irish, who obviously don't know a great, inspiring college football story when they see one.

The Mids and their fans should not despair, of course. Coach Paul Johnson has revived the Navy football program to the point where yesterday's game at the Meadowlands may have been the most compelling Division I matchup in the country.

Not bad for a team that was a combined 3-30 from 2000 to 2002 before rising to win eight games and earn a bowl bid last year. Not bad at all, but that probably wasn't much consolation after the Mids failed a major credibility test and lost to the Irish for the 41st time in a row.

Sadly, that's what is supposed to happen when you're not as big or as fast or as quick as the other traditional football powerhouses, but it still hurts when you were 5-0 and you thought this might finally be the year when you could look across the line of scrimmage at the Frightened Irish and say, "Who's your Middie?"

Navy was never really going to end up in a major BCS bowl game - you've got to play a few more big-time teams for that - but a victory yesterday might have slipped the Mids into the Top 25 and would have created the very real possibility of an undefeated regular season.

It's still stacking up to be a very successful year, but the Mids wanted to beat the Fighting Irish in the worst way, and ended up losing that way instead.

If Notre Dame has become Navy's white whale - eluding the Midshipmen for 41 years like Moby Dick - Johnson isn't ready to assume the role of the obsessive Captain Ahab.

"How many times in the last 41 years have we been favored?" Johnson said. "It's not like they're beating Southern Cal 41 times in a row. They're beating an academy."

(Note to Eagles fans: Just see the movie. The book has really small type.)

The loss by the Midshipmen left only one undefeated college football team in Maryland. Salisbury University's Sea Gulls (Division III) defeated Kean University, 44-0, yesterday afternoon to run their record to an impressive 7-0.

I could have gone to the Naval Academy, if not for the unreasonable physical and academic requirements, but I don't think I would have lasted very long. The brigade of midshipmen was up at 3:30 a.m. yesterday and boarded buses for the Meadowlands at 4:15.

That's a little earlier than usual, but you get the idea. I was up at 3:30 a.m., too, but I nodded off soon thereafter.

Football fan Mark Nowowiejski of White Marsh called me on the carpet this week for my "silence" about the Ravens' big victory over the Redskins.

"So where is the gloating?" Nowowiejski wrote in a lengthy e-mail. "We have four years of bragging rights and I say we make the most of them."

Go to town, Mark, but I'm going to wait until the Ravens score their next offensive touchdown before I start bragging on them.

Ya' think the Yankees/Red Sox series is a big deal in New York? You don't know the half of it. There were 10 stories in the New York Daily News yesterday morning ... about Friday night's rainout.

Since the Orioles decided not to have a managerial search this offseason, we'll just have to live vicariously through the New York Mets. Speculation centers on Yankees coach Willie Randolph, though there also are soft rumors that Bobby Valentine - currently the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League - may have an outside chance at the job.

"Bobby is under contract to the Chiba Lotte club, and I have a lot of respect for that club," new Mets GM Omar Minaya told reporters during a conference call the other day.

Guess that means no.

Final thought: Navy had zero yards passing in the first half yesterday, something the Midshipmen might have been able to overcome if they had the Ravens' defense.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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