A game between Navy and Notre Dame seldom achieves the status of a football climacteric. The last time it did so was back in the middle of Hitler's war when the Naval Academy was so well stocked with players it looked more like a football academy. That was the fourth and last time Navy has won in this 29-year rivalry—if such ill-matched teams could properly be called rivals. But 1955 was to be different. Navy had George Welsh, a splendid 165-pound quarterback who is able to do all things the bigger boys can do and usually better. It had End Ron Beagle, winner of last year's Maxwell Award as "the outstanding college football player." With five convincing wins in its duffel, Navy went to South Bend last week as the recognized leader in eastern football. It would there answer the question: Is it safe now for a really good eastern football team to cross the Ohio and invade the Midwest without, say, a regimental escort of marines?
It took little over 15 minutes for the 59,475 wet, chilly, happy fans—the largest home crowd in Notre Dame history—to learn that the answer is no, it isn't safe. By the start of the second quarter the precisely drilled Midshipmen had used all the important threats they had stocked in their hold. Taking the ball at midfield, Welsh moved his team within 22 yards of a score, passing to Beagle and Halfback Chet Burchett. Then a long, wobbly Welsh pass was picked off by Paul Hornung, the tall, curly-headed Irish quarterback who is as severe on defense as he is unrelenting on attack.
From his own one-yard line Hornung moved his team out of danger, sometimes handing off to Don Schaefer, his fullback, sometimes faking the hand-off and himself thudding through the left side of his line where Guard Pat Bisceglia and Tackle George Nicula were providing ample running room. They were not big gains—four, five, seven yards at a try—but they sustained a momentum. Once, after two incomplete passes, Notre Dame seemed to have stalled on the Navy 37 with fourth down and six yards to go. Hornung chose to gamble, faking a handoff and using his big legs to drive him the necessary seven yards. Six plays later Hornung pushed his way into a blue mass of Navy at the goal line and fumbled the ball into the waiting arms of Halfback Jim Morse for the first touchdown. Accidental or opportunistic, this fumble indicated Hornung's and Notre Dame's ability to get what they wanted. What they got on this day was a plodding, unspectacular, unsuspenseful 21-7 victory over a Navy team that belonged in the East where it is still probably the best of the lot.
Despite the efficiency and handiwork of such polished quarterbacks as Hornung and Welsh, this game was played and won in the obscure tangles of the line play. Notre Dame's young Coach Terry Brennan was quick to point this out. "Those guys opened up the holes, and we controlled the ball," he said. Then he finally conceded what much of the country has been saying all along: "Paul Hornung is a real quarterback for my dough. George Welsh is a good quarterback, but I'll still take Hornung." Read Welsh for Hornung and vice versa, and you have exactly what Navy's Coach Eddie Erdelatz said about his man, except that he added, "Remember, our boy doesn't have those big 215-pound linemen to open up holes for him."
November 7, 1955
Assuming, as one must, that Navy is still the class of the East, what of the others? Well, Yale and Princeton, both 4-0 in the Ivy Group, intend to settle that title among themselves on Nov. 12. And then there is Army, which surprised everyone by using All-America End Don Holleder as a quarterback this year. This experiment, obviously aimed at ending Navy's recent domination, is still in the laboratory, but if it succeeds by Nov. 26, then Army will have relieved Navy of a somewhat tarnished sectional title.
Billed as a battle of top quarterbacks, the game was decided by the aggressive play of the stronger Irish line. Notre Dame's Paul Hornung (top) drives between Navy Guards Tony Stremic (61) and Vernon Dander (63). Stremic and Dander (bottom) provide no opening for teammate George Welsh (11).