Long-standing Navy-Notre Dame rivalry finds new ground

Brian Kelly, Ken Niumatalolo
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo (L) and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelley (R) will meet on the Midshipmen’s turf for the first time in the rivalry. (AP/Michael Conroy)

Navy and Notre Dame have played football 93 times during their long-standing series in eight different states and two different countries.

They’ve played in South Bend 36 times, Baltimore 22 times and met in locations such as Cleveland, Philadelphia and East Rutherford, New Jersey.

The two schools have even met across the Atlantic, playing twice in Dublin, Ireland. But they’ve yet to play in Annapolis on the Midshipmen’s home field — until this year.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium seats roughly 34,000; the record announced attendance is 38,792 fans for the 2017 Navy-Air Force game.

Over the years, instead of playing on campus, the Midshipmen have held home games at different NFL stadiums with much larger capacities and much larger crowds, from over 60,000 in San Diego and Jacksonville to over 70,000 in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

This year, Navy and Notre Dame were slated to square off Aug. 29 in Dublin, where they drew 48,820 eight years ago.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, they’ll be playing stateside either Saturday, Sept. 5 or Sunday, Sept. 6. And with crowd-gathering likely limited this fall, why not play at the Academy?

“I’ve been more involved in the football preparation than some of the logistical stuff, but to be able to play them here and still have the game, it is exciting,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Niumatalolo has led Navy to four wins in 13 tries against the Fighting Irish, accounting for 31% of the school’s victories against Notre Dame since the series kicked off in 1927.

Wayne Hardin’s mark of 3-3 against ND from 1959-64 is the best among Navy coaches, and he had two Heisman Trophy winners at his disposal in Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.

“Well, the rivalry for us is very, very important. Obviously, they’re hard to beat. They’ve beaten us more than we’ve beaten them,” Niumatalolo said.

“But we still love to compete and play against them. They’re an elite football program and institution. We have great respect for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly and their program.”

The Fighting Irish finished 11-2 and were ranked 12th in 2019’s final Associated Press poll. And they look to be good again in 2020.

“They’re a good football team. The last time we played them they got after us pretty good,” Niumatalolo said of the Midshipmen’s 52-20 loss on November 16.

“We’re grateful for this [playing the Fighting Irish in Annapolis] but you better be ready to play because they’re going to be the best team on our schedule and every year that we play.”

Notre Dame has won the last three meetings, four of the last five, and leads the all-time series 77-13-1.

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