For Mids, Notre Dame is opportunity


Navy coach George Chaump wiped a fake tear from his eye and tried to hide a smirk.

He had listened to Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz recall the close friendship they enjoyed as assistant coaches under Woody Hayes at Ohio State in 1968, sharing car rides and sandwiches at McDonald's and ending their day in their favorite Columbus piano bar.

Then he heard Holtz praise Navy's controlled passing game and aggressive defense that had proved so troublesome to the unbeaten Irish in recent years. Finally, Chaump couldn't stand it anymore.

"Yeah, we're friends," he said. "But Lou wants to beat the heck out of us, and I want to beat him twice as bad."

But Chaump faces a Herculean job, with his Midshipmen 35-point underdogs to the second-ranked (8-0) Fighting Irish in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium at noon today.

How does a coach convince his players they can beat such an overpowering foe, a team that has dominated the series 56-9-1 and has won 29 straight since 1963, when Roger Staubach was calling Navy's signals and Academy superintendent Tom Lynch was a linebacker?

"You stress the challenge and opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the country," Chaump said.

"I loved being on the sidelines at the Meadowlands in 1990 whewe totally outplayed them in the first half [it was tied 10-10]. If you're only interested in the final score, you're missing the whole point about what the Academy is about."

Linebackers coach Jake Gonos said even his wife, Marsha, asked one morning this week, "Don't you think your players will be afraid or intimidated by Notre Dame?"

"I told her that Navy football players are never intimidated. Respectful, yes, but never intimidated."

After watching films, Gonos calls the 1993 Irish "awesome. They don't hide anything. They all but say, 'Here we come. Try and stop us!'

"That's why I don't try to blow smoke. I always tell my guys straight what the odds are against them. They know they have to play their best game to defeat Notre Dame. But they also believe anything can happen."

For sophomore defensive end Andy Person, it is a chance to play in his hometown of Philadelphia and match his skills against Notre Dame tackle Aaron Taylor, an All-America and Outland Trophy candidate.

"Playing against Notre Dame on the same field where I grew up watching the Eagles and Phillies play is one of the big events of my life," Person said.

"There's no doubt they have some of the top athletes in the country, but I really think we'll catch them looking ahead to playing Florida State [Nov. 13] for No. 1.

"We're getting better every week. We blew a lot of scoring chances against Louisville, but if we move the ball the same way and capitalize inside the 20, we're capable of beating anyone."

For junior quarterback Jim Kubiak, who missed last year's Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury, it is an opportunity to prove his single-season Academy records for pass completions and yardage are worthy of note.

"I come from the Irish section of Buffalo, where just about everyone is a Notre Dame fan," he said. "That's why this game is special for me. You want to prove yourself against the best."

For senior co-captain Javier Zuluaga, a native of Indianapolis, which has sent many high school stars to Notre Dame, it is a chance to show Holtz he was "one that got away."

Zuluaga, who is leading the Mids in tackles for the third straight year, never received an inquiring letter from Notre Dame despite winning all-state, county and city honors and leading Roncalli Catholic to the Class AAA championship his senior year.

"For four years, my biggest dream has been beating Notre Dame," he said. "This year, I honestly feel we have our best shot."

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