Air Force-Navy: A Changing of the Guard
By Paul Myerberg // Oct 2, 2010
It’s been eight years since a team other than Navy owned the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy: every year since 2002, it’s been the Midshipmen — not Air Force, not Army — taking home the coveted service academy-only trophy. Barring a miracle, the streak is over. Air Force took down Ricky Dobbs and the Mids, 14-6, thanks to a superb defense and a big-play effort from the special teams — a blocked punt in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons their final eight-point margin. Not that it’s over; don’t give Air Force the C.I.C.’s Trophy just yet. If there’s a three-way tie — if Navy beats Army, Air Forces loses to Army — the Trophy remains Navy’s possession. Is that asking too much?
No, certainly not. Army’s a rejuvenated bunch, despite today’s disappointing home loss to Temple. The Cadets have made tremendous strides under Rich Ellerson, progressing from an inept, incompetent bunch into a certified bowl contender; in fact, at 3-2, I’d be surprised if Army doesn’t get to six wins.
Yet Navy does need help — the Mids must feel helpless, for lack of a better word. Beating Army is one thing; asking Army to step up big against a very, very good Air Force team is another.
The Falcons are that good. They’re a Top 25 team, give or take, thanks to a stellar start: 4-1, with the lone loss a three-point setback at Oklahoma. That’s as good a loss as you can find in the country, in the category of backhanded compliments. Yet the point stands for Air Force — at 4-1, with B.Y.U. down, the Falcons are poised for a nine-win regular season.
That’s heady territory even for this proud program, which has experienced terrific success both in Troy Calhoun’s short tenure and in the not-so distant past. Yet this success doesn’t diminish the importance of today’s win; there’s a reason the fans stormed the field, why the university played Etta James’ “At Last” over the stadium loudspeakers as time drifted off the clock in the fourth quarter.
It’s an enormous win for the program. In the day-to-day picture — not to belittle the accomplishment — it puts the Falcons in a great spot: three games above .500, with Colorado State coming to town and a winnable final month. In the bigger picture, Air Force now controls its destiny in the fight for the C.I.C.’s Trophy; don’t underestimate the importance of this factor, of course. In the widescreen view, Air Force is now — this year, in 2010 — the nation’s best service academy.
Not Navy, not Army — we think — but Air Force. For the first time since 2002, when Navy began its run at the expense of Air Force’s five-year ownership of the Trophy. What’s next for the Falcons? A win over Army would clinch the Trophy, obviously.
Next up, on the other hand, is Mountain West play. The Trophy comes first, and a 6-6 finish with wins over Navy and Army would nevertheless be a successful season. Still, this team is capable of far more: nine wins, as noted, and even a surprise win over T.C.U. or Utah. The latter two games will be tough, as they always are. Yet if the Falcons play their game — play with passion, with a stout home crowd at their backs — anything is possible.
As we found out today, Air Force’s successful season, which combined both of these two factors, has continued at Navy’s expense. For the Mids, it’s time to regroup.
Tags: Air Force, Army, Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, Navy
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