You may have seen this article on Scout from a couple of days ago, but if you haven't, check it out. Mike James, writing for GoMids.com, talks a little bit about the Navy-ND tradition and why he holds such respect for the series. Ostensibly it's a response to a facile anti-ND screed that appeared on the same site the day before, but really, it stands on its own:
Most Navy and Notre Dame fans know the story. World War II took a huge toll on colleges and universities across the country as men of college age were called into service. Notre Dame was no exception, and the school faced a financial crisis because of it. The military had a completely different problem; the war had created a demand for officers that existing commissioning sources were unable to meet. Several service schools began to appear on college campuses and military installations; some, like Iowa Pre-Flight and Bainbridge Naval Training Center, even made a splash on the college football scene. Father Hugh O'Donnell, acting president of Notre Dame at the time, saw the military's need as a solution to Notre Dame's financial woes. He offered the school's facilities to the Army, but was turned down. The Navy-- particularly Chester Nimitz-- was far more receptive, and a Naval training center was established at Notre Dame in 1941. During the war, 12,000 Naval officers were trained in South Bend. The influx of Navy trainees saved the school.The picture above is care of IrishTrpt07 over on NDN, and shows Navy officers in formation on South Quad.
Notre Dame awarded Nimitz, who had become Chief of Naval Operations, an honorary degree in 1946. At the ceremony, Nimitz spoke of his gratitude for the service that Notre Dame provided to the Navy, and for the officers that served under him in the Pacific fleet:
"Father O'Donnell, you sent forth to me, as to other naval commands on every ocean and continent, men who had become imbued with more than the mechanical knowledge of warfare. Somehow, in the crowded hours of their preparation for the grim business of war, they had absorbed not only Notre Dame's traditional fighting spirit, but the spiritual strength, too, that this University imparts to all, regardless of creed, who come under its influence."
Nimitz wasn't alone in his expression of gratitude. In thanks for what the Navy did for the school, Notre Dame saves a place on its football schedule for Navy-- Nimitz's alma mater-- each year.
College football has changed a lot since 1946. Once-sacred rivalries such as Oklahoma-Nebraska and Pitt-Penn State haven't stood the test of time, falling victim to a shifting conference landscape driven by television money. But Notre Dame still honors its 60 year-old promise. Adherence to a decades-old vow is far from "disingenuous," as Rohe chooses to describe the Notre Dame administration. It is, in fact, the most genuine form of loyalty that there is in college football. And don't think that Notre Dame's loyalty isn't tested, either. The Irish are under constant criticism for playing Navy. John Feinstein describes Notre Dame as a bully for scheduling what he feels is an overwhelmed Navy team each year. In a BCS world where so much emphasis is placed on strength of schedule, there are many in the media who ridicule Notre Dame for not dropping Navy. The biggest names in college football want to schedule Notre Dame; the Irish could surely make more money by replacing Navy with a higher-profile opponent. Yet Notre Dame never hesitates to renew the series, recently extending it to 2016. Notre Dame does not turn its back on the promise it made.
For some more ND-Navy love, check out a piece Pete penned a couple years ago as an editorial in the Observer. And then check out this incredible response from a Lieutenant Gerry Motl, who played for Navy against ND forty years ago this year. He scanned in lots of pictures from his scrapbook of the game, including ticket stubs, program covers, and a handwritten note from Rocky Bleier.