Nostalgic aura surrounds Notre Dame-Army game

Nostalgic aura surrounds Notre Dame-Army game

The last time Notre Dame and Army played at Yankee Stadium, Neil Armstrong had recently landed on the moon and the Mets were losing Game 1 of the World Series. A lot has changed since Oct. 11, 1969.

Of course, Saturday's Notre Dame-Army contest will take place at the new Yankee Stadium, serving as the resurrection of a once-bitter rivalry that got so virulent, they called it off. Unlike some of their previous matchups, Saturday will be devoid of national-title implications and should feature less hostility, but the historical significance of the occasion has cast an electrifying aura over the game, scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m.

"It's a great venue, exciting, on NBC, national television," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. "I think [it's] just a great atmosphere for college football. It's the 50th meeting of Army versus Notre Dame, so there's a lot to the game."

For Army head coach Rich Ellerson, the spectacular nature of the game provides motivation and responsibility for his team.

"I'm going to use the fact that it is Yankee Stadium, that it is Notre Dame, that it is Army, and that's something, unless you've been under a rock, that sounds like America," he said. "These individuals that right now represent Army football have a chance to be the guys that represent us in that venue on that evening, and that implies some responsibility. It's a tremendous opportunity and honor, but a lot of responsibility that goes along with it."

Yankee Stadium began hosting football games in 1923, with Syracuse defeating Pittsburgh, 3-0, in the opener. Throughout the 1920s, a variety of teams would play there, NYU and Fordham in particular, and of course, Notre Dame and Army. After 1947, the Stadium was used less frequently, featuring one game a year, sometimes none. Eventually, Grambling would become the main host, inviting one team a season to play throughout the 70s and 80s. It was only after the 1987 game, in which Central State beat Grambling, that football was suspended indefinitely due to field damage.

When the Yankees moved into the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, talk resumed of hosting football games. The Notre Dame-Army matchup will act as an exciting precursor to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Yankee Stadium II. That game will consist of the fourth-place team in the Big East against the seventh-place team in the Big 12. Click here to buy tickets!

Notre Dame enters the game on an enormous high after shellacking No. 15 Utah, 28-3. The Irish desperately needed that win, having lost the two previous weeks at Navy and against Tulsa. The Utah victory could be the pivotal point for a program trying to turn things around, thanks to the efforts of its bright new coach. A convincing win over Army would help further that momentum and improve Notre Dame's current record, a pedestrian 5-5.

It will be a difficult task, considering the way Army has played. Ellerson employs a run-first triple-option offense at Army, allowing sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman to make critical decisions. Much of the offense relies on fullback Jared Hassin, an Air Force transfer who has helped the Black Knights join the rushing elite in college football. Though Army lost to Air Force, 42-22, two weeks ago, an impressive triumph over Kent State has the Black Knights in position to go 7-4 with a win Saturday.

Overall, the Irish and Black Knights have skirmished 49 times, with Notre Dame leading the series, 37-8-4. Perhaps the most famous of those was the "Game of the Century" in 1946, when No. 1 Army tied No. 2 Notre Dame, 0-0. Their first Yankee Stadium contest was back in 1925, when Army blanked Notre Dame, 27-0.

Fan interest in this game has been immense. Tickets are selling quickly, and NBC anticipates high television ratings. Notre Dame will wear their alternate green jerseys, which are usually reserved for special games.

Adam Spunberg is a contributor to PinstripeBowl.com. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamSpunberg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.