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Know your enemy 2015: Air Force Falcons

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


Well, Boise State still has a revenge game tomorrow night, but I didn't think it would be in sudden death. Boise State absolutely must avenge last season's loss to the Falcons or watch any remaining hope of a title shot go the way of the dodo. There's a lot to respect about Air Force, but on senior home...I hope the Broncos give them the "blue carpet treatment". Know your enemy.

Ten things you probably didn't know about Air Force or their acclaimed academy

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 exercise 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 "Lance Corporal Wilford Brimley". 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 me out, as I'm married and have 2 school-aged kids and a mooching toddler). Third, you must be of high moral character—I like to call this one the "3 Rs" ruffians, riff-raff, or rapscallions. 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 stated yesterday, Mr. Carlos Ray Norris (aka "Chuck") served in the Air Force as an AP or "Air Policeman" from 1958 to 1962, which is a particularly risky position when you ask offenders to "please step out of the vehicle" at 15,000 feet. Anyhoo, Mr. Norris (if you don't address him as "mister" in formal settings, prepare to be roundhoused) picked up Tang Soo Do while stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea and soon became good at kicking stuff—like real good. By 1968, he had won the professional middleweight karate championship belt...a title he held for six straight years. In 1990, Norris was awarded the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt GrandMaster in Tae Kwon Do—becoming the first westerner to do so. The prestigious title was the highest honor Norris had achieved until achieving the title of Walker, Texas Ranger in 1993.

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) Just southwest of Colorado Springs is Cheyenne Mountain, the home of the underground operations center of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which ignoring well-established acronym conventions is known as "NORAD". NORAD provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for Northern America (including Canada), but more importantly, tracks the location of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The "NORAD Tracks Santa" program actually began as a whacky mix up when in 1955 a Sears store placed an ad in the Colorado Springs newspaper that gave children a number where they could call Santa Claus to given him their gift requests and to remind him to take his blood pressure medication. The number printed in the paper was erroneously that of NORAD's predecessor "CONAD" (Continental Air Defense Command) but the Colonel on duty that night was feeling the Christmas spirit and instructed the staff to give children Santa's "current location" and a tradition was born. Try the tracker with your kids this year if you haven't already...and if you have kids on the "naughty list", you might want to call NOBAD instead, which tells them Santa's location but also that he's got 3 Russian MiG fighters hot on his tail.


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) When you're in the Air Force, the term "Chief Meteorologist" bears a bit more weight than when it's applied to Rick Lantz's lapel. The Air Force has a team of weather men (actually Special Operations Weather Teams) that it deploys to scout environmental conditions ahead of squadron deployments and the like. We aren't talking Larry Gebart doppler reading here...this is a commando unit with far more killing power and training than Gebart's signature mustache. The airmen who make it through the rigorous training to become a "weather man" earn a coveted gray beret and crest, and can look forward to jumping out of airplanes, climbing mountains, and blowing things up. If you see these weather men in front of a green screen, it's too're already dead.

"Rick said it would be like this."

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.