DUBLIN, Ireland – Navy players don't have to be told they have a higher purpose. Col. Paul Montanus reminded them anyway.
Friday's walk-through prior to Notre Dame was recess really, as the day before games coach Ken Niumatalolo allows the Middies to basically play grab ass on the field. As the fun concluded, Montanus spoke briefly on what it means to be an officer first and a football player second. The stirring five-minute talk overshadowed everything you've read or seen about this game.
Some background: Montanus is a 23-year Marine veteran. Currently, he is an officer liaison to the team meant to be a mentor, advisor and reminder about the Navy players' real purpose. As a part of his decorated career, in 2001 Montanus was a military aide to President Bush during the moment he was informed of 9/11 in that Sarasota, Fla. classroom.
“We had heard that a plane had hit the building but not much more,” Montanus recalled. “When the president started getting the brief on that first plane, it was, ‘Man, what a bad pilot.' We were trying to think of a reasonable reason. Then we turned in on TV when the second plane hit, ‘What in God's name. We gotta get out of here.'
Air Force One took off so fast and with such force, Montanus said, that it cracked the runway in Sarasota.
Those kinds of stories are jaw-dropping to us. To the Navy players they are inspiring. For his pregame talk, Montanus recalled Cpl. Seamus Davey. Montanus was the battalion commander that beautiful October day in 2005 when machine fire cracked the air.
“You don't mistake the sound of it,” he said.
Davey and a partner were “clearing” a house of hostiles in Iraq's Al-Anbar Province. They were ambushed. Davey was shot and pulled into the dwelling. That put the Americans in no-man-left-behind scramble mode.
“And so for the next four hours we were in a fire fight, probably the most vicious fight I've ever been a part of, to get him back,” Montanus said. “We weren't leaving without him.
“We had [tank crews] begging to go and light the house up. We had fighters doing strafing runs over the house. It lasted so long [an] F-18 ran out of gas and had to go. The plot called over the line crying because he had to leave his brother. He kept apologizing to me, ‘Hey, man. I'm sorry I have to abandon you guys.' I had to comfort him over the radio.”
Seamus Davey died that day and was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously. The Marines were able to recover his body.
A little later, Davey's father already had been notified but Montanus felt an obligation to call anyway.
“I started crying on the phone,” he said. “I couldn't control myself. The dad started comforting me. It was a juxtaposition of roles. I just couldn't take it.”
Montanus then smiled thinly at the players in front of him. The last thing he had remembered about Davey was at the mission briefing thinking, “Man, he needs to get a freakin' haircut.”
“That reminds me of what you are doing,” he told the team. “Not to the same life and death degree, but love. What keeps us going is the love for each other. The pilot loved us because we were Marines. That love drives us. The other thing that drives us is a knowledge. I know when I see a Marine in uniform he's going to be ready. I know he is not going to quit until the mission is done.
“The one thing I know is you're never going to quit, you're never going to give up, you're never going to give less than 100 percent. That's the same in combat. This looseness that means you're ready, it means you're ready to go to battle.”
Navy is a 15-point underdog Saturday to Notre Dame. That doesn't seem to matter at the moment.