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Why the Navy-Notre Dame Game Matters

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It’s easy to think of Navy’s annual game against Notre Dame as a tradition being held onto from generations ago, but it still serves a unique purpose.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

South Bend, Indiana. November 3, 2007.

It’s the third overtime of Notre Dame and Navy’s annual game. Notre Dame has the ball, pushing towards the end zone. Navy is winning 46-38.

The Midshipmen had scored a touchdown and gotten their two-point conversion. The Irish needed to match that. Travis Thompson would earn the first six of those points on a touchdown rush. The next two would need to come from the conversion. Initially, it would fail, but a pass interference on Navy would give Notre Dame another shot from the one-yard line. They’d go back to Thompson, but the Midshipmen were there to stuff him, securing a historic victory.


Final score: Navy 46, Notre Dame 44 in 3 OTs. It was the first time Navy had beaten Notre Dame since 1963. From Ara Parseghian’s first season, when Notre Dame shut out Roger Staubach, to the start of the Charlie Weis era, Notre Dame always found a way to win 43 straight times.

It was such a shock that Paul Johnson essentially stamped his ticket to Georgia Tech with the win, which also led to Ken Niumatalolo being promoted to head coach. Meanwhile, the Irish began to mistrust the historically bad Weis.

Since then, Navy has managed to beat Notre Dame an additional three times, including twice against Brian Kelly. Still, that doesn’t make up for how historically uneven this series is, with Notre Dame holding a 77-13-1 record, and the ability to recruit top ten classes annually. That’s like Bedlam if Oklahoma State had to recruit exclusively elite academics who want to be in the military.


So, why do they bother to play? In years when Navy might be fighting for bowl eligibility, having to play Notre Dame can be a major issue. It’s not like Navy doesn’t have Army and Air Force for rivals either. So, why keep playing Notre Dame, when they can almost always expect to lose?

Well, beating Notre Dame really isn’t the point of playing the game...hough, it is nice. For a lot of Notre Dame fans, this was actually the game they missed the most last season, ahead of teams like USC. The reason that Navy and Notre Dame play goes back to World War II.

While Notre Dame and Navy started playing in 1927, and haven’t stopped since, the real reason they never stopped started then. Due to the war, Notre Dame was struggling financially. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, needed to train a lot of sailors. Seeing Notre Dame’s financial issues, they chose to use their campus as a training facility. This gave Notre Dame the funding to survive World War II. Now, Notre Dame will play Navy every season that Navy wants to, out of respect.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

For Navy, this is a big deal. They travel to Notre Dame every other season, and host their home game at a neutral site. That’s because Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is a bit too small for the amount of fans who want to come. This is great for Navy financially, and it also gives them a boost in recruiting above the other academies.


Losing the game was devastating for both programs last season, in particular for fans as well. It was originally going to be played in Dublin, Ireland, before rumors it would be moved to campus in Annapolis, until the pandemic finally got the game cancelled. Niumatalolo was quoted as saying, “Initially that was a downer because it was a big game for our program. We love playing them.”

As a conference, this is also good for the AAC, who has a shot to play and beat a perennial power. This won’t reflect poorly on the conference if they lose, but is great if they win. For Navy, they could have stopped the game if they really wanted to, but it’s about the tradition and mutual respect the two have for one another.

The respect goes both ways. Notre Dame would never quit this game because they suffered a string of losses. After all, for many fans it’s a bucket list game to go to that they never want to see end. So, yes, they’re rivals. No, they don’t hate each other. And, yes, this is one of the best rivalries involving a team in the AAC and it should go on forever.