Notre Dame and Navy have one of the longest uninterrupted rivalries in college football. The two sides have played every year dating back to 1927.
This weekend, the two sides will face off in San Diego. For over four decades, Notre Dame could pencil this one in as a win, but in 2007, Navy won a triple overtime game against the Fighting Irish, snapping a 43-year streak. The Midshipmen have won three times since.
I would assume the overwhelming majority of Notre Dame fans support the series. For the two schools, it means more than football.
During World War II, Notre Dame—then, an all-male school—saw enrollment plummet. The Navy chose Notre Dame to open a training program, which kept the school from closing.
In return, Notre Dame has vowed to keep an open invitation to Navy to play a football game every year. Thus far, the two sides have not missed a season, and there is no indication that it will end anytime soon.
A writer for Scholastic, the long-running Notre Dame student magazine, thinks the Navy series has run its course.
A day ahead of this year’s game in San Diego, John Horlander published a column arguing that, because of Navy’s triple-option style, the game does more harm than good for the Fighting Irish.
The game offers Notre Dame almost nothing from a football standpoint. The one benefit Notre Dame gets is that every other year it has the opportunity to travel to a place like Florida (2016), and California (2018), which are great recruiting spots. But everything else about the game is to the detriment of Notre Dame from a football standpoint.
The Irish often come away from the game with a myriad of injuries. Navy’s propensity to cut block the legs of Irish defenders has led to what feels like countless knee injuries, and last year Equanimeous St. Brown was upended by a tackle and landed on his head, knocking him out for the rest of the game. In 2015, Jerry Tillery was sidelined for most of the game with a sprained elbow and bone bruise. It’s a dangerous game, plain and simple. Furthermore, even if the Irish manage to escape the game without serious damage, they have traditionally struggled in the next game, referred to as the “Navy hangover game.” In 2013, Notre Dame lost to a middling Pitt team after knocking off Navy. The next year, the Irish were wrecked by a loss at Arizona State after beating Navy. In 2016, the Irish played Navy and Army back to back, splitting the meetings. It followed up those performances with a loss on senior day at home to Virginia Tech. Playing Navy leaves a lasting impact that affects Notre Dame’s chances to succeed in a very negative way.
Teams often struggle during the week after playing an option attack like Navy, Army, Georgia Tech, and Georgia Southern. There are also injury concerns.
However, history and tradition is everything in college football, especially for Notre Dame. Because Navy never hosts this game in Annapolis, this game is also a huge opportunity for Notre Dame to visit a fertile recruiting ground that isn’t accessible via its many other annual rivalries.
There’s always going to be someone who isn’t into a series like this, but it would be a real shame for it to go away. Luckily, there’s no indication that Horlander will get his wish.