Notre Dame football: Honor, respect for Navy

Tribune Correspondent

God. Country. Notre Dame.

That mantra, chiseled into the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, describes the perfect balance of spirituality, allegiance and family. As the Naval Academy once again travels to South Bend, it reminds Irish staff, students, players, alums and fans that “Country” comes before “Notre Dame.”

Saturday will be the 87th straight year, starting in 1927, that the Irish have played the Naval Academy, making it the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in the country. Although the Irish hold a 73-12-1 (.855) edge in the series, there is an intense amount of honor and respect between the programs, on and off the field.

In the fall of 2009, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in History. As a final requirement in the History department, I had to take a senior thesis class. Each semester, the list of potential class offerings changed, making it very difficult to hone in on a specific topic. As divine intervention would have it, my final course was titled, “The History of Notre Dame.”

I learned more about the University of Notre Dame during that semester than I had learned in my previous four years. From the mere beginnings of the university, to the first year Notre Dame became co-ed, to myths and legends, to the most obscure facts and figures, I became well-versed in Notre Dame lore.

One of the most interesting topics was the relationship between the University of Notre Dame and the Naval Academy. During the 1940s, amidst World War II, the enrollment numbers declined at the Notre Dame. As a way to bolster those numbers and serve the Country, Notre Dame invited the Naval Academy to establish the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, which increased enrollment by 150 students per year.

Furthermore, a drill hall, headquarters and classrooms were constructed. As World War II continued, several other Naval programs were created on the campus of Notre Dame, one of which was the V-12 program. More than 10,000 officers completed their training at Notre Dame during the early 1940s.

Without the influx of students on the Notre Dame campus, it is probable that the University would have collapsed. As a lover of history, I have a deep regard for those individuals at Notre Dame and the Naval Academy that paved the way for me and for many others.

For 43 years, Irish football teams emerged victorious versus the Navy. However, over a five-year period while on the Irish team, I was part of two losses. In 2007, I was the starting quarterback in a triple-overtime loss.

I recall falling asleep after that game and waking up to a highlight being played on the television of me being sacked on a fourth down in regulation where coach Charlie Weis opted to go for it rather than kick a field goal.

Who am I to say what we should have done in that situation? Coach Weis got paid the big bucks to make those decisions. I simply focused on execution. In my sleepy haze, I prayed that what I was witnessing was only a dream. Of course, it was not. That was the last time I would see the field as a starting quarterback.

Granted, the 2007 season was full of losses. That loss, for me, was by far the worst. However, not the worst of my career. The worst loss occurred in 2009, when ranked 19th, we again lost at the hands of the Midshipmen.

True to our mantra of God, Country, Notre Dame, in both of those loses, we stood with the Naval Academy while they played their alma mater. Those losses reminded me of a phrase my father told me as a young athlete, “if you win, let it be done by the code with your head humbly held high, and if you should lose, stand by the road and cheer as the winners go by.” Gracious in victory and defeat.

As it is with any game, players must fight the urge to play down to the level of other teams. What makes the process even more difficult is the type of schemes and techniques that Navy utilizes.

Because the offensive and defensive fronts for service academies are usually much smaller than Irish lines, it means a much different blocking scheme to prepare for. I witnessed more injuries in preparation and game action versus teams that cut block than any other teams.

Rich with history on and off the field, there is always a fine line playing against service academies. At times, it is very difficult to match the intensity of teams like Navy, Army and Air Force without being disrespectful.

The approach, more so versus service academies, is businesslike. It is important to focus on the task while playing with respect and honor. Go Irish!

In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT’s JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT’s Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He’ll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.

Tribune Photo/MARCUS MARTER Navy's Ricky Dobbs sings the alma mater after defeating Notre Dame at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, November 7, 2009. Navy defeated Notre Dame 23-21. via FTP