June 12, 2011
Some things don’t need to change, and one of those things is the name of Falcon Stadium.
Since Fisher DeBerry earned election to the College Football Hall of Fame, there’s been a crusade to name the stadium after him. This crusade makes sense. DeBerry won 169 games in 23 seasons while spreading good vibes in stadiums all across America.
But there’s a problem; another coach stands beside DeBerry as an Air Force titan:
Air Force officials are nervous about re-naming Falcon Stadium, opened in 1962, as DeBerry Stadium. They worry, with good reason, about offending Martin loyalists.
Brock Strom, a Springs resident, is the right person to ask about the Martin/DeBerry dilemma.
Strom is one of Air Force’s all-time greats, a dominating offensive lineman who helped push Air Force to an unbeaten season in 1958. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
He played for Martin, and he’s close to DeBerry. He has deep admiration for both men, which leaves him torn.
He would not protest if the stadium were named for DeBerry, but a part of him would be saddened.
“I still have the feeling in the bottom of my heart that the whole stadium is there because of Ben and the way this program got started,” Strom said.
He has a point. Martin is the pioneer of Air Force football, the man who arrived in 1958 with this wild idea the Falcons could compete with anybody. And he believed the Falcons, born in 1955, could conquer Army’s and Navy’s ancient programs.
Buck Shaw coached the Falcons in 1956 and 1957 and compiled a respectable 9-8-2 record, but his ambitions were modest. He scheduled such tomato cans as Colorado College, Occidental and Whittier.
Martin scheduled Stanford, Utah, Oklahoma State, Colorado and, most menacingly, Iowa for his rookie season.
Minutes before the kickoff at Iowa, Martin stated his formula for Falcons success. The team, which included a senior named Brock, kneeled around him in the locker room. It was Martin’s second game.
The eighth-ranked Hawkeyes, Martin told his players, would be bigger, stronger and faster.
Martin’s voice began to rise. The Falcons, he shouted, would be smarter and tougher. Air Force, on its way to a 9-0-2 record, tied Iowa, 13-13.
Martin walked through his football life with a strong, eccentric presence. He sometimes started practice by showing his skill with a Hula-Hoop. He wore a blue hat on the sideline and tossed it high after big touchdowns or victories.
For a long time, Martin enjoyed a sweet ride. After the 1973 season, he and his Falcons were soaring. He had compiled an 86-71-6 record with three bowl berths and six straight winning seasons.
Then it all fell apart. He lost 32 of his final 44 games and resigned following the 1977 season.
But those sad final days did nothing to diminish his role as the dreamer/pioneer who employed his considerable will to build a winner on the edge of the Springs.
Strom often thinks about Martin, and those thoughts always produce a smile. Coach and player were extremely close, and a few days before Martin died in 2004 he asked Strom if he wanted his blue hat.
Strom immediately said yes. He keeps the hat hanging in the basement of his home in Skyway. It’s a reminder, he said, of a “great” coach and man.
He knows there would be nothing wrong with DeBerry Stadium, but also knows it would not be exactly right.
His idea for the stadium is the same as my idea for the stadium. This idea is not exactly radical, but sometimes things need to stay the same.
“I think Falcon Stadium is a good name for it,” Strom said.
So do I.