Staubach recalls the last Navy win
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Roger Staubach knew he would never forget Navy's victory over Notre Dame his junior year.
"They had some down years but they still had some great players in those days and beating Notre Dame was something special," Staubach said. "I remember every play of that game. It was a big deal."
Staubach didn't know how big a deal that 35-14 victory in 1963 would turn out to be. That's because the win that helped vault Staubach to the Heisman Trophy remains the last victory for the Midshipmen against the Irish -- an NCAA record 39 straight losses to an opponent going into Saturday's game.
The loss in that streak Staubach remembers best is the first one, a 40-0 loss the next year to the Irish under new coach Ara Parseghian in Philadelphia.
"That was worst defeat I've ever had, including professional football," the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback said. "Who would have ever thought that would be our last win?"
There was no hint the rivalry would become so lopsided so quickly. Navy had beaten the Irish three times in four years and went 30-12 from 1960-63, producing two Heisman winners. Notre Dame went 14-25 during that span. That all changed after Parseghian arrived.
Since then, most of the games haven't been close, and in almost all of those games the Irish were double-digit favorites. Fans often questioned why the game was even being played.
Not this season, though.
The Irish are 2-6 for the first time since 1963 and have been routed three times, including their last two home games against No. 2 USC and No. 3 Florida State. The Irish have been outscored 68-0 at home since scoring in the first quarter against USC and have lost three straight at home for just the fifth time ever.
Navy (6-3), led by second-year coach Paul Johnson, arrives in South Bend with the nation's top-ranked ground game, some newfound confidence and needing just one victory to become bowl eligible.
The Midshipmen are still underdogs, but by just eight points, and are hoping that the 39-game winning streak is weighing on the Irish.
"We hear about it a lot about the streak, so it's in our minds," Navy quarterback Craig Candeto said. "But I think in a positive sense it just gives us a great chance to break that and be the only Navy team to beat Notre Dame in 40 years."
The Irish players admit they don't want to be on the squad that finally loses to Navy.
"That's a lot of pressure but it's something we're ready to take head on," safety Lionel Bolen said. "It's not something we can focus on. We're just looking to get a win."
Irish coach Tyrone Willingham is trying to downplay the pressure.
"This won't be the first team at Notre Dame that has faced that challenge," Willingham said.
The Midshipmen have come close to ending the streak in recent years.
Six years ago, Irish cornerback Allen Rossum shoved Pat McGrew out of bounds on the 1 on the final play as time ran out to preserve Notre Dame's 21-17 victory. Four years ago the Irish got a favorable spot by officials on fourth-and-10 with 1:20 left, keeping the game-winning drive alive by an inch or so. Last year, the Irish scored 10 points in the final 4:23 to pull out a 30-23 victory.
"We've been coming close. There are about 10 games in that streak that probably could have gone either way," Staubach said. "We still have to have things happen in the right way to win these kinds of games. But maybe it's our turn."
After 40 years, it may just be.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press