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Deaths noted on helmets but kept out of minds

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000


Navy players wore black anchors on the back of their helmets in memory of the sailors killed and in support of those injured aboard the USS Cole on Thursday morning in the Arabian Peninsula. The coaching staff and support personnel wore black ribbons.

Though some players and coach Charlie Weatherbie admitted it was a distraction in preparation, no one used it as an excuse for the Midshipmen's performance.

"It puts the game in perspective," senior free safety Chris Lepore said. "It's not as important as it was three days ago. But when you're on the field (and playing), what are you going to do about that?

"I'll go to church (today) to pray for the families of the 17 soldiers that died. During the 60 minutes that I'm on the field, I think of nothing but the football game."

DEFENSIVE DRIVER: Notre Dame senior Tony Driver's two fumble returns for touchdowns in the first quarter were his first as a defensive player. The running back turned free safety has seven rushing touchdowns, including two against Oklahoma last season, his only previous two-touchdown game.

"I'm afraid on the (flight back) Driver's going to howl at me about going back to the offense," Notre Dame coach Bob Davie joked.

OTTO STATE: Navy was the first football squad from a service academy to play in Orlando since the 1963 Tangerine Bowl, when Pro Football Hall of Famer and St. Petersburg resident Otto Graham coached the Coast Guard.

The other time Notre Dame played at the Citrus Bowl, it lost 23-16 to Florida State in 1994.

THE SERIES: The Notre Dame-Navy series, though lopsided, is the longest-running intersectional rivalry in the country. Saturday's game was the 74th between the two, with Notre Dame holding a 64-9-1 edge, including 40-6-1 at neutral sites (in which Navy is the home team).

LOCAL BOYS: Notre Dame has three Tampa Bay area players on its roster: sophomore quarterback Gary Godsey (Tampa Jesuit), freshman defensive back Preston Jackson (Hillsborough) and senior defensive back Justin Smith (Lakewood). Navy has none. However, quarterback Darryl Gordon and strong safety Justin Ownby, both of Plant High, are on the Midshipmen's Plebe team.

Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White is a former track coach and teacher at Gulf High in New Port Richey.

BAD VERSUS GOOD: Navy has lost 30 straight games to ranked opponents. Its last win was a 17-13 upset of No. 20 Virginia in 1985.

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