Falcon Stadium joined Notre Dame, Nebraska and Kansas as Division I football stadiums I’ve visited for multiple games when Air Force Academy hosted Virginia Military Institute on Saturday.
KU’s Memorial Stadium sits way at the bottom of the list of experiences.
Notre Dame Stadium and Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium offer grander productions, but AFA’s game day holds up. Falcon Stadium has better views, too.
If there’s one thing bonding those three experiences together, it’s tradition. One can expect goose bumps at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Air Force.
My first Air Force game came long before the video boards and alcohol sales. When No. 7 Notre Dame pulled off a 21-14 win over No. 18 Air Force in 2002, I was a high school freshman seated with my family on the north side of the stadium. All I cared about was Carlyle Holiday leading the Fighting Irish to a win.
Saturday, I made sure to take in more than the 62-0 Falcon victory.
The experience started 90 minutes before kickoff on a perfect day to start the season.
A walk through "Jurassic Park," the most popular tailgating spot, provided the usuals. There was grilling and lawn games. A band of cadets provided live music.
There were some stark differences from recent experiences at Notre Dame and Nebraska games.
The cadets drank pop or water while playing bags, quite a contrast from plastic cups filled with cheap beer or liquor in Lincoln, Neb., and South Bend, Ind. The Falcon student section did produce some light “boos” when it learned those in uniform would not be allowed to purchase alcohol.
The decorum throughout the day was a welcome change of pace. While many fans elsewhere stumble to their seats, the cadets moved in formation.
What sticks out most is how many students have a part in the production. Every school has marching bands, cheerleaders and spirit squads. Hardly any other school has students parachuting onto the field or handling falcons in a crowd of 37,286.
Saturday’s goose bumps came when senior defensive back Marquis Griffin bounced up and down as the band performed in the tunnel before the Falcons got their final instructions.
That led into some traditions I remembered from 2002: the flyover, paratrooper landing and pushups after a Falcon score.
The unsightly score likely tamed the in-game atmosphere, but Falcon fans seemed excited about the sale of alcohol at the stadium. Both beer tents were sold out and closed by the start of the third quarter. Larger quantities will be ordered ahead of the Falcons’ next home game.
It’s nearly impossible to match the electricity of Nebraska’s Tunnel Walk or Notre Dame’s Player Walk, but Air Force has its niche when it comes to game day.
The experience at Falcon Stadium deserves a visit, even if the game isn’t worth watching.