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Know your frenemy: Air Force edition

"If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril." —Sun Tzu

Denver Post


Boise State finds themselves in Colorado Springs for the first time ever and will hopefully be prepared for undersized Falcon linemen launching themselves at our defensive linemen's knees. The triple-option makes for interesting football...but I'm not sure I'd call it "fun". At any rate, here's a Know your Enemy class from yesteryear. Know 'em up.

Ten things you probably didn't know about Air Force or their high altitude hub

10) The Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, CO was founded in 1954—making them one of the youngest major institutions in the country—and just a shade over 150 years younger than the US Military Academy and about 110 years younger than the Naval Academy. The US Air Force, as you might expect, is also the youngest of the 3 major U.S. military branches—founded in 1947.  It should also be noted, that the modern Air Force does not hold shirtless beach volleyball tournaments on the weekend, despite what Top Gun has led you to believe...oh wait, Top Gun was a Navy unit? Then I'm really not that sure about the shirtless volleyball tournament thing.


They work hard. They play hard.

9) Air Force played their first collegiate football game in 1956 and did surprisingly well. Well, maybe not surprising, since I've gathered from movies that in the '50s, most excercise regimens were comprised of doing high knees, boxing kangaroos, and tossing around medicine balls—military personnel would have a distinct advantage.

But I digress...

Anyway, the Falcons went 6-2-1 their first year of competition playing almost entirely in the confines of their home state. Their coach in their inaugural year was Lawrence "Buck" Shaw, who amazingly was the only coach to leave the academy with a winning record until Fisher Deberry came along in 1984. Shaw had previously coached at Nevada and Santa Clara, but was best remembered for his playing days at Notre Dame, where he was an All-American tackle and placekicker for the legendary Knute Rockne. Shaw originally attended Creighton University but played just one game for the squad before they called the entire season due to a flu epidemic. Ahh, the early 1900s—where men played football with no padding and trench foot, but seasons were called due to the flu.


"Just look at that craftsmanship."

8) Female cadets were expressly forbidden from attending any of the service academies prior to 1975 when president Gerald Ford fell down a flight of steps and then signed legislation making it so. In 1976, the Air Force Academy was officially open to all chromosomes and 157 female cadets enrolled at the school. Not everyone was happy about the admittance of the fairer sex, and to this day the class of '75 notates themselves in reunion and alumni publications as the "LCWB". I'll let you figure that one out for yourselves, suffice it to say, it doesn't stand for "Left Coast Wine Bar". What exactly forced the integration of the academies in the '70s is up for debate, but many say it was due to Betty Ford doing a lot of nagging.

7) Attending the Air Force Academy isn't as simple as getting good test scores or having a high blood-alcohol level (University of Idaho) have to meet a much more stringent set of qualifications to become a cadet. First and foremost, you must be a U.S. citizen, although exceptions may be made if the entrant is invited by the Department of Defense...ooh...can we get Van Damme? Secondly, the prospective cadet must be unmarried and have no dependents (this rules out Kevan, as he is married and lists Mr. Fiskers as a dependent). Third, you must be of high moral character—I like to call this one the "3 Rs" ruffians, riff raff, or rascals. Lastly, you must be between the ages of 17 and 23 and pass a battery of medical and physical tests (ie, can't be "4F" on account of the ear or otherwise). On top of those standards, a cadet must produce a "nomination" from a U.S. Senator or Representative. I'd like to think that the nomination needs to be written in blood using a quill made from a bald eagle feather...but I think they abandoned that requirement around the same time the let the ladies in.

6) As you might imagine, the Air Force Academy produces aviators and astronauts at a rate far above that of other institutions of higher learning. In fact, the AFA has produced at least 37 astronauts and also heroic civilian pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who saved hundreds of passengers lives when he ditched his plane on the Hudson river (well, we call him a hero...but PETA calls him "the goose murderer"). Speaking of sullen burgers, did you see the look on Mayor McCheese's face when he lost his re-election bid in November?


Not an Air Force grad.

5) The falcon has been the official mascot of the Air Force Academy since 1959, when it was selected by popular vote (remember, this was before females were admitted, otherwise they might have been the Ponies, or the scented lip balms—I really know women, don't I?). The official mascot's name is simply "the Bird". Oh...haven't you heard about "the Bird"? Well, I don't want to go telling tales out of school...but I have it on good authority that "the Bird" is the word—keep that info close to the chest. Since 1955, live falcons have also been trained at the Academy and in general 12 falconers (3 from each class) train birds every year  for exhibitions and home football games. Now you know why entrance to Falcon Stadium is forbidden if you have a live mouse in your pocket (frankly, I'd discourage it anyway).


All but 12 falconers in the U.S. look like this.

4) Bill "Big Tuna" Parcells served as head coach at Air Force for one forgettable 3-8 season in 1978. To date, it was Parcells only head coaching job at the collegiate level, and yet he somehow parlayed his lack of success into a job as defensive coordinator for the NY Giants the following year. In layman's terms…he pulled a Tom Cable. Fun fact: Parcells was a basketball assistant to Bobby Knight in 1966 at Army. Knight taught him everything he knows about the lost art of chair-throwng.

3) The architectural and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed the Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The architect Walter Netsch is generally credited with the design of the iconic chapel that was named a National Historic Landmark in 2004. Fittingly, for a service academy, Netsch's design is considered a icon of brutalist design and may be the only building on campus that you could be impaled on.


"I see your point."

2) The Falcons play their home games at Falcon Stadium (capacity 52,480) and have since 1962. The stadium the second highest in Division 1-A at 6,621 feet above sea level, so if you're sitting in the nose bleeds, you probably actually have a nose bleed. Furthermore, the stadium has astonishingly lax security for a service academy as not once, but twice have Navy MidShipmen snuck in prior to their annual rivalry game to creatively mess with the large "Air Force" lettering emblazoned on the stadium seating. First, the intrepid Midshipmen snuck in and changed the lettering to read "AIR FARCE" and then the second time were fresh out of ideas and made the letters read "CHAIR FORCE". Maybe OBNUG should lend Navy the anagram server before this year's game.


You've crossed the line, Navy.

1) I'm sure there have been a lot of tough football players at Air Force, but for my money, the toughest was Lance Sijan. Sijan played for 3 seasons at Air Force before quitting the team to focus on his studies. He graduated from the Academy in 1965 and entered Vietnam as a 2nd lieutenant flying F-4 Phantoms in Danang. In 1967, on Sijan's 52nd combat mission, his Phantom crashed in the jungle and despite extensive injuries, he evaded capture for 46 days. Once Sijan was finally captured, he was able to overpower his captor and escape, again despite being in very poor health. Sijan was re-captured yet refused to divulge any information to his captors even though he was severely beaten and tortured. Sijan died of pneumonia in Hanoi in early 1968 and posthumously received the Medal of Honor and the rank of Captain. A dormitory at AFA is named in his honor and statue of Sijan was added to the campus in 2009.