Friday, November 14, 2008

Why We Fight

Every year, even this one with the Irish football program in a very fragile state and (for the second straight season) the weaker record between the two teams, we get treated to another round of peanut gallery comments on why Notre Dame bothers playing the service academies. Specifically why the Irish bother with Navy, a team they've beaten 43 out of 44 times and are 70-10-1 against all-time. We hear the chuckles about how ND must be angling for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. But specifically when it comes to Navy, there's a deeper and much more significant reason why the series continues to this day. Here's an excerpt from one of the more compelling write-ups on that topic, which appeared in USA Today just before the 2004 game:
The man in the office overlooking the golden dome understands the renewal at Giants Stadium involves far more than the streaks of annual meetings. It is about blue and gold from sideline to sideline and essential, mutual support during periods of vulnerability, influences that have directed thousands of young lives, including his.

The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame for 35 years before his retirement in 1987 and a leader in American higher education for longer than that, defined the place Navy holds in the history of his school.

"All I can say is without the Navy during the war, this institution would have gotten down to a few hundred students," Hesburgh said during a conversation on campus this fall. "Instead of that, we were almost twice our normal size during the war, and we were able to contribute something to the Navy."

During World War II, as Notre Dame's enrollment dropped to Depression-era size, the Navy's decision to establish a Navy College Training Program on the South Bend campus in July 1943 provided much-needed economic relief and a surge of energy.

During the Vietnam era, as college administrations elsewhere restricted or abolished ROTC programs, Hesburgh's insistence preserved the Navy presence on campus.

"We said they're going to stay on campus," Hesburgh recalled. "This is their home, too. They're here, and they're welcome and they're going to stay here.

"If there's any relationship that we have in athletics that has really held up over the years, it's the Navy," he said. "People said, 'Well, Navy has a terrible team,' and I said, 'I hate to be winning all the time, but there were days when they won back in the glory days.' It has always been cordial."
Of course, in the following years since this article appeared some interesting new chapters have been written in the rivalry, especially for those on the Navy side in 2007. But the next time somebody wants to put down this series as another lame attempt by Notre Dame to schedule an easy win, you might want to suggest this history lesson.


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