A GBMWolverine Salute to the Military Academies- A Preview of the Air Force Michigan Game
The author has had the good fortune to advise and teach students who later went to West Point, Annapolis, or Colorado Springs. Two have achieved Top Gun status and one is a Top Gun instructor. Many were females who made it through the grinder of academy preparation. They were bright, maybe not as inherently bright as the students who attended Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, Michigan, UCLA, Duke, or Georgetown. But these were the kids that scored a few points less on the infamous standardized tests than Ivy League types. But these kids had a clear vision of what they wanted out of life, loved the challenge that was accepted, were not afraid of any work level, and would not give an inch. They had winner written all over them.
Most were quiet but came back as leaders, dressed in uniform and intensely and passionately talking to younger students at their alma mater. There was no arrogance but an extreme pride about what had been accomplished and a stubborn determination about the future.
The athletes at the service academies are not five-star in athletic rank; their rank will be used to defend the country. In academy life, challenges are taken in all areas, including sports. The academies play major competition and in the early decades of the 20th Century West Point ruled, let alone competed. Then college athletics changed for good and became NFL farm teams.
Dwight Eisenhower made a famous tackle of Jim Thorpe saving Army's bacon. Army remained strong until the 1960's and slid downhill with the retirement of famed coach Red Blaik. Navy came on strong with famed quarterback Roger Staubach. And then came the Air Force.
The Air Force Academy did not come into existence until 1954. Many in the young category of society do not realize that there was no Air Force until 1947. In World War II what is now the Air Force was the Army Air Corps. Football started in 1955 and by 1958 the Falcons played in the Cotton Bowl, which then was a major bowl venue. The Air Force Academy has played in 22 bowl games, with a 10-11-1 record. Frankly this is a remarkable accomplishment.
The Academy has enjoyed victories against major competition and has been a member of the football rich MWC for years. Perhaps the most visible and satisfying victory was against Ohio State in 1990, when Ohio State with a 50-60 pound advantage chose to use wide splits and let the smaller, but fast and determined, Falcon linemen shoot right through the gaps.
Like the other service academies, the Air Force has used ingenuity, determination, preparation, and discipline to compete against bigger, more talented teams. Versions of the triple option have come and gone for all the academies, but the basic idea remains: control the clock and move the ball with intelligent option football that has become a great equalizer.
Fisher DeBerry, the winningest coach in military academy history, is linked to the vintage flexbone offense that was actually designed by one of the greatest offensive masterminds in football history, Tiger Ellison. DeBerry, it was said wanted a more flexible offense. And so two slotbacks between the wideouts and tackle, and a fullback behind the quarterback came into vogue and was termed flexbone.
By 2007 the flexbone went out of vogue, and offensive options meant to combat the growing number of superior defensive athletes came into being. Fisher DeBerry retired and in 2007 Troy Calhoun, an Academy graduate, took over the reins as Head Coach. As much as DeBerry experienced success, Calhoun's accomplishments have been sterling. Coach Calhoun's first team improved five games over the 2006 record and the Falcons have since set a school record with five straight bowl games. Coach Calhoun has coached on both sides of the ball in the NFL and served as a very successful offensive coordinator of the NFL's Houston Texans before taking the job at the Academy.
Beyond football, the Air Force Academy represents the best of college athletics and for that matter university preparation. The APR of the academy is consistently at the top of the NCAA Division One ranking. The academics are rigorous (not a big secret here), including high-level math, physics, and engineering. Essentially, when one graduates from a service academy the educational rank is really equal to a Master's level education.
It is refreshing in this day of meat market athletics to see an institution upholding the very best qualities of college and the American way of life competing successfully against high-level competition.
Make no mistake, when the Air Force Academy takes the field Saturday at the big House, the team has already won, and that includes every other field taken to as well.