Usually when you mention Academy football to people, I think maybe “underdog” summarizes what pops into peoples’ minds… and if you disagree with that statement, when was the last time your put Air Force in the same category as Ohio State, USC or LSU? Believe or not though, Air Force has been a pretty competitive team in her (relatively) short history of 52 years.
Air Force football started out in 1955 with the first graduating class (Class of ’59 – see, I still have some freshman knowledge in me!). That first year, they just played “backyard” games against JV teams. It wasn’t until 1962 that Falcon Stadium was built. In the interim, Air Force did manage to score a slot in the 1958 Cotton Bowl vs TCU. The game’s final score: tied, 0-0.
The ’60s and ’70s brought the Air Force average seasons. During this time, their record was mostly of the losing type (3-7, 4-6 or 5-5), but a few of those years the Academy put together a winning season, and were aptly rewarded for it by going to the Gator and Sugar Bowls (in ’63 and ’70 respectively; unfortunately they lost both). It wasn’t until 1984 when DeBerry took over as head coach that the Academy would enjoy winning seasons year after year (until the past 4 years or so). As much as I like to rag on DeBerry, he gets some of the credit for bringing on the mainstay of Air Force’s offense: the dreaded wishbone. With DeBerry’s 22 years at the helm, the Academy got to go to 11 Bowl games.
Within DeBerry’s first 2 years as head coach, the Academy beat both Virginia Tech 23-7 in the Independence Bowl (’84) and Texas 24-16 in the Bluebonnet Bowl (’85). In fact, that 1985 season was the season a #2-ranked Air Force almost went undefeated (to play for the Championship title), until a closely-ranked BYU beat them by a touchdown in one of their last games… Air Force ended that season ranked #5 in the nation (and went on to beat Texas above)! I bet no one saw that coming.
From 1989 to 1992, the Academy secured the Liberty Bowl 4 times in a row. Among those four Bowl games includes a win against the Ohio State, 23-11 (in 1990).
While I was at the Academy, they made two Bowl games. I made it to the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon in ’97; we unfortunately lost 13-41 (ouch). But we did come back the following year (’98) in the Oahu Bowl and made the Washington Huskies our bitches, 45-25! In fact, 1998 was the Air Force’s only other 12-1 season, ending the year ranked #13 nation-wide. What a great 4 years to attend the Academy!
Enough of past AF accomplishments.
This season, Academy football has done a remarkable thing: under the new coaching staff of Troy Calhoun, the Air Force maintained a 9-3 season (their first winning season since 2003) and became the nation’s #2 rushing offense for 2007. Nice. They take on the California “Golden Bears” (or the “Golden Showers” as I like to call them) today for the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX – kickoff is at 1230 Eastern time on ESPN. I’m hoping for a win, as I honestly think Air Force is the more motivated team in this match up. To our advantage, Cal has more or less ended the regular season with 6 losses in a row, with only one 3-point win over Washington St to break up the monotony. I think the Air Force can do it, but they need to bring their “A” game – because service academies tend to lack the size, and sometimes the skill, due to their unique mission and demands. There is one thing that service academies usually have an abundance of when compared to normal college teams: heart.
So far the Mountain West Conference is 4-0 for Bowl games this year. The Air Force is the last team to play. Let’s hope they take it to a perfect 5-0 for Mountain West! California: bring it. Goooo Air Force! I’ll be over here while I watch the game.
UPDATE: Well, Air Force lost this one 36-42. Sucks. I think that if Carney hadn’t been injured in the 3rd quarter, AF could’ve actually won. Anyway, it poses a challenge to Calhoun for next season: you’ll have to fill that slot with Carney graduating. I’ve been impressed with what he’s done so far. Let’s see what he can do with that challenge.