On December 22, 1978, Phil McConkey caught Bob Leszczynski’s pass and raced into the San Diego night for the go-ahead touchdown in Navy’s win over BYU in the inaugural Holiday Bowl. This put an exclamation point on the beginning of one of college football’s longest-running bowls. Yet, Navy has never appeared in the bowl since, eluding the Holiday Bowl’s grasp like McConkey eluded Cougar defenders that night.
As I covered yesterday, the Holiday Bowl is trying to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of conference realignment, needing a new bowl partner after the disintegration of the Pac-12. Yesterday, I argued the case for the Mountain West to take the Pac-12’s spot in the Holiday Bowl for tradition’s sake. Today, I propose another route.
San Diego is well-known as a military city with multiple Navy and Marine Corps bases. Navy football and the city are intertwined in several ways. Navy appeared in the very first Holiday Bowl in 1978 and appeared in three Poinsettia Bowls during that bowl’s lifespan from 2005-2016. Navy always seems to draw well in San Diego with their attendance figures below.
In six prior appearances in San Diego, Navy drew an average of 42,545 fans per game. Their most recent appearance, the 2018 Notre Dame game, drew a sellout crowd of 63,626. The average drops to a still respectable average of 38,329 for the other five games.
While Navy will not draw close to 50,000 fans to the Holiday Bowl, like USC did in the mid-2010s, they do not need to since the game is at 40,000-seat Petco Park. Last year’s Holiday Bowl drew 36,242 fans, on par with the numbers Navy drew in their three Poinsettia Bowl appearances.
Additionally, an agreement between the Holiday Bowl and Navy gives the Midshipmen a chance to rekindle old, time-tested rivalries with the ACC. Navy has played over 251 games against current ACC membership, with the Midshipmen having four series with ACC schools with over 25 meetings.
The inflexibility of Navy’s non-conference schedule is notorious, as obligations to Army, Air Force, and Notre Dame have limited the Midshipmen to one interchangeable non-conference game. As a result, several familiar ACC schools like Pitt, Wake Forest, and Duke have disappeared from the schedule, likely never to be seen again.
The rare aspect of a game between Navy and an ACC is likely enough to draw Navy fans from across the country along with the local “dockside alumni” Navy fans of San Diego. (No hate intended, just a play on Notre Dame’s “Subway Alumni”)
Finally, Navy is a national brand that brings solid viewership. The Holiday Bowl is the only bowl game broadcasted on Fox so getting a team that can draw high television ratings is a focus for the bowl. One can make the argument that an agreement with Navy increases the national draw of the bowl game as most of the former PAC-12 schools have more regional followings.
While not the most practical solution, an agreement between Navy and the Holiday Bowl is a logical and unique move. It furthers the bowl’s relevance to the local community, rekindles old rivalries, and can increase the national profile of the bowl. It is simply a move over four decades in the making.