August 1, 2014 Updated: August 1, 2014 at 9:04 am
Troy Calhoun never got a chance to eat lunch Thursday.
A bunch of his friends did, though. Then he picked up the bill.
The Air Force football coach stood so close to the Chick-fil-A at North Carefree Circle and Powers Boulevard that he certainly could smell the restaurant's chicken sandwiches and waffle fries drifting through the air.
But on this day, he sacrificed his own hunger in order to meet and greet hungry and appreciative fans, who scored a free meal as part of the "Lunch on Coach" program.
The tab didn't come out of Calhoun's wallet, or taxpayers' either. According to Jackie Walls, Chick-fil-A's local marketing director, the event was a marketing partnership between Calhoun and IMG College, a collegiate marketing agency that represents Air Force, along with several major colleges and conferences around the country.
"I had no idea this was going on, but I love a free lunch," Kimber Salberg said. "Maybe I'll buy someone else's lunch sometime, to pay it forward. I've always been a fan of Air Force, and something like this demonstrates their community commitment."
Army wife Tammy Barber, whose husband, Jason, is active duty for the National Guard while participating in the World Class Athlete Program as a physician's assistant and strength coach, had prepared for this moment.
Dressed in her Air Force royal blue T-shirt, she and son Kaleb, 12, and daughter Aspen, 10, shook Calhoun's hand and accepted souvenirs including schedule cards, drawstring gym sacks and Chick-fil-A miniature stuffed cows.
Chick-fil-A marketing director Jackie Walls estimated that more than 100 cars snaked through the drive-thru line during the hour-long promotion, accounting for as many as 500 beneficiaries.
"Even with the weather, the fans were great and happy to meet the coach," Walls said. "We've been huge supporters of Air Force for years, and we love to give back to the community. To have this all come together in unison is great."
Then, as quickly as it started, Calhoun, who greeted fans car by car as they approached the pickup window, bolted back to the academy to oversee meetings and an afternoon practice.
On an empty stomach.
"I told them (my superiors) that I'd like to eat lunch while I was here," Calhoun said jokingly.
"It's a neat deal to meet so many people in Colorado Springs. I've done a few of these, and the longer we've done it, the better reception it's gotten."