Notre Dame-Navy 2012 Challenge Coin, one of Len Clark’s most prized possessions.

Another ND memory from the “CLARKives

BY: Len Clark, PhD.

Editor’s note: On September 1, 2012 Notre Dame opened the season against Navy in Dublin. The Irish, led by Everett Golson, Theo Riddick and Stephon Tuitt prevailed on the day 50-10 and this writer can confirm that Aviva Stadium in fact ran out of Guinness by halftime. Enjoy Len Clark’s memories of his visit to Ireland for that game.

The series began in 1927 and is the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in college football – Notre Dame vs. Navy.

It also ranks as one of my favorite games of the season.

You know the stories – the Heisman Trophy winners; how the Navy kept Notre Dame’s doors open during WWII, and Hesburgh’s “open invitation” to play Notre Dame.

It’s a series defined by mutual respect and excellence and, then, there is the pageantry.

Fly-overs by the Blue Angels, or a Navy jet, piloted by a Notre Dame grad; the Midshipmen entering the stadium, and the singing of the alma maters after the game.

Covid came up with the shutout last season ending the consecutive streak.  A streak that even WWII couldn’t stop.

It also canceled plans to play in Dublin, Ireland for a third time.

It also abruptly ended my plans of taking Notre Dame journalism students over to Ireland cover the game.  A project that I was helping coordinate.

Since new memories were not created last season, I’d like to share a few from when the Irish opened the season at Aviva Stadium in Dublin against the Mids in 2012.

It was my first trip back to Ireland since the early 90s and my first trip to Dublin. 

Who would have thought that just a few years later I would be part of a global mobile journalism organization, based in Ireland, and would return every year to speak.

My association with the group led to my providing a Notre Dame Report on Dublin City FM during the football season and consulting Irish media companies.

I moved to Ireland in 2017, but could not secure a work visa and had to return home after a few months of living abroad.

But I digress.

I arrived in Dublin a few days ahead of the game.  Besides the traditional Irish tourism stops in Dublin’s City Centre, I wanted to visit the USS Fort McHenry that was scheduled to dock at the Port of Dublin for the game.

I hired a taxi for the short ride (I’ll spare you the details on how I left my passport in the vehicle) to attend the media opportunity to see the ship and its crew.

Only three journalists showed up – two Irish print reporters and me.

The Marines demonstrated the unloading of military vehicles, while the Navy public affairs officer and his chief petty officer took pictures and served as our hosts.

The highlight was when Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, conducted a swearing in ceremony for those who decided to reup.  He ended the induction ceremony with the following words, “the Navy players might not go pro in football, but you, along with them are going pro for your country.”

You couldn’t help but tear up hearing those words and to feel proud to be an American.

I had a short conversation with Secretary Mabus, who thought I said I was from “India”, and had a chance to meet some of the Marines and Sailors.  A few were even from the South Bend area and they beamed with pride knowing that someone from their home state stopped by to say “Hello”.  A few were even Notre Dame fans.

As I left the ship, I asked the man walking next to me , whose uniform was decorated with multiple stripes, medals and insignias, “Are you the captain of the ship?”

“No,” he replied.  “I’m the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet.”

I felt embarrassed.

The next afternoon at the game I, again, met Secretary Mabus.  He was being interviewed by Notre Dame radio and I was sitting in the same area.

After being interviewed, Secretary Mabus handed out Navy challenge coins to those around him, but when it came to me he had run out, so he extended his hand, shook it, and gave me a smile.

Notre Dame won the game.  The first step towards playing in the national championship game that season.

It was a learning experience for everyone in attendance.

The Americans attending the game learned the reach of the Notre Dame brand, while the Irish learned about tailgating and what a college football gameday was like. 

I was told that Aviva Stadium ran out of Guinness and rashers (sausages) at halftime and feared a riot would break out.  They couldn’t believe it.

I, personally, learned about pride and loyalty. 

Let me tell you a little more about it.

On the flight over to Dublin, I met the Commanding Officer of the Notre Dame Naval ROTC program, Earl Carter, and his wife, Lea.   They were on my flight.

Earl, a 32-year Navy veteran, captained the USS Scranton and led its crew to the first ever North Pole mission by a Los Angeles class submarine before his stint at Notre Dame.

We immediately hit it off.

On the way home from Dublin we, again, shared the same flight.  I told him about meeting Secretary Mabus and not receiving a challenge coin, as I headed to the back of the plane to find my seat.

I quickly fell asleep. 

When I woke up, I noticed something on my lap.  It wasn’t the biscuits I had expected, but a little black pouch. 

I opened it and was pleasantly surprised to find a Notre Dame Naval ROTC challenge coin. 

After landing in Chicago, I quickly ran toward baggage claim, like OJ Simpson in a Hertz television commercial, to find my new friends and to thank them for the gift.

Earl smiled and put his hands on my shoulder and told me, “You deserve that coin”.

It’s one of my most prized possessions and is a constant reminder of how special the Navy game is.  Notre Dame-Navy is more than a football game.

This year’s game will mean even more to me as my friend, Earl Carter, who, after retiring from the Navy and serving as an associate dean at Notre Dame, died unexpectedly in May of 2020 at the age of 61.

The last time I saw him and Lea was after a Notre Dame basketball game where I, again, thanked him for his generosity 8 years later.

Fair winds and following seas, Earl.  Thank you for the memory.

Go Irish – Go Navy.

By Phil Houk

For 25 years, bringing you the glory of Notre Dame football.

2 thoughts on “ND-Navy: More Than a Football Game”
  1. Very nice story, I was in the navy awhile ago and I’m taking my wife for my first ND VS Navy game nxt week. Gonna be extra special to me to attend this great tradition.

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