November 19, 2010 Soaring Off Into The Wild Blue Yonder
I’m no easy pushover or a cheap date for athletes or sports in general now, after more than six decades of playing, covering, publicizing and watching our games and the boys and girls, men and women who have swept through my life, 14 Olympic Games, and the 1980 Miracle On Ice in Lake Placid……………too much been there, seen that to get swept off my feet, too much television, internet, spin control, Facebook and Twitter, sports bars and ESPNdroids, steroids and “student athletes,” instant replay and TV screens cluttered with crawls and strike-zone graphics on every pitch, clichés and fake tears, helmet-to-helmet “Jacked Up! hits, Dr. Lou, Boomer, Coach and Herbie, and screeching bloviators on talk radio……….but, just when I thought romance would never come my way again, I stayed up late last evening, well past my bedtime, to watch Air Force scrap, claw and fight past UNLV, 35-20, in a more than half-empty stadium with 13,000 fans on hand in Las Vegas. My heart swelled.
My admiration for Air Force Academy football actually began on October 12, 1963 in Lincoln, Nebraska, at Memorial Stadium………..it was Bob Devaney’s second Husker squad in a state suddenly on fire with Big Red mania and the rebirth of NU football, and Air Force was a selected non-league foe to be handled by a team that would go 10-1, beat Oklahoma for the Big Eight crown on the weekend that the President of the United States was assassinated, then whip Auburn in the Orange Bowl to finish #5 in the nation……..turns out I got to see that one loss as a 21-year-old television sports reporter shooting film in the end zones, a memorable 17-13 upset of the mighty Huskers by Air Force………….The young and unknown Falcons used a Terry Isaacson to Fritz Greenlee 38-yard touchdown pass with only 2:41 left to play to complete a monumental upset of the Huskers, outgaining Nebraska, 357-323 and confusing the Huskers with their quickness and schemes……….I will never forget one quote from a Falcon defensive player, who told the media, “we knew which way Nebraska would run the ball by watching the fingers of their offensive linemen when they had that two-point stance of theirs, they put more pressure on the knuckles of the hand on the side they wanted to run.”……..……..how great was that? I was smitten by the smarts of the Falcons………….I stayed an admirer even when fate took me to Boulder and CU to spend a decade on the Buff staff, and the great rivalry between Air Force and CU from 1968-74………Ben Martin’s teams were solid and talented, and I hated to see it end after the ’74 game in Colorado Springs, a heart-stopping 28-23 Buff win……the two have not played since, and somehow, the series has to be restored, because there would not be a better college game in the state on an annual basis……….but last night was special for anyone who stayed up to watch and could get CBS C on their cable package or listen to Jim Arthur, Lee Douglas and Jay Ritchie on the Falcon radio network……….here were the Falcons, achingly close to being 9-2 after gut-wrenching losses to Utah and San Diego State, not to mention a three-point loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman………missing key linebackers, top defensive linemen and a handful of others like star running back Jared Tew, coming off four days of rest, no bye week all season, and those Cadet days that start at 5:00 a.m. in the pitch dark and end late at night, with a full day of classes and obligations related to the mission of the Academy and its principles………no “Undeclared” majors among these men, only aeronautical or astronautical engineering, geospatial science, chemistry, military strategic studies or others…………now these are “student-athletes” in every sense of the word………..UNLV was 2-8, but a team that had nothing to lose, coached by Bobby Hauck, a young coach on the way up and coming off an energizing thrashing of Wyoming…………this was a trap game if there ever was one, but the Falcons sucked it up to outscore the Rebels 21-3 in the second half to finish 8-4 and await what looks sure to be an Independence Bowl invitation on Dec. 27 in Shreveport, maybe against Clemson………Troy Calhoun’s teams have now won eight games in each of his four seasons at the helm, that’s a first for any AFA head coach…………..Calhoun’s teams are now 10-3 in November and 33-18 overall………..the Falcons have drawn home crowds of 47,656 for Navy, 46,692 for BYU and 41,547 for Colorado State, most importantly, they have won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for the first time since 2002 with their brilliant triumphs over Navy and resurgent Army…………what’s not to love here? What Colorado Springs and the state has just north of our city is a Tiffany’s gemstone, an athletic program to wrap one’s arms around and embrace……. young men, and women of strength, character and integrity who also compete without an eye on a pro career or a reality show………….we need to close the mental gap the lingers around here and realize that this is one of the most unique entities in sports, and that Colorado Springs, ever mindful of “branding” itself, is right there with Annapolis and West Point, and that’s a great place to start………..those among our townies virtually rhapsodic with Denver’s professional teams might now accept a wake-up call…………..Air Force has delivered us an elite, compelling and inspiring football program with young men that can truly be called role models, plus an exciting ice hockey program that has built a reputation under Frank Serratore and the gift of an exciting intracity rivalry with the Colorado College Tigers, joining the Sky Sox and those Tigers as “our” teams and points of pride, along with an NCAA Division II program at UCCS with unlimited potential…..………with Thanksgiving just a week away, Colorado Springs and genuine sports fans have much to be thankful for.
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