September 13, 2011
Air Force has refused to play the University of Colorado in football since 1974. Last Saturday, the academy saw an enticing reason to renew a once-promising rivalry:
The state of Colorado is surrounded by football-obsessed states, but the college game is a tough sell here. Air Force-CU would be an event that could sell out Falcon Stadium or Boulder’s Folsom Field or even Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Interest for the college game is lacking on the edge of the Springs and in Boulder. On Saturday, Air Force failed to sell out against TCU, despite ideal weather, despite a marquee opponent. CU has its troubles with oceans of empty seats.
Here’s the good news: Hope for the CU-Air Force series lingers, even after 37 years. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun supports renewing the series. So does CU athletic director Mike Bohn.
Calhoun wants to begin a Governor’s Cup that would reward the state’s best football team with CU, Colorado State and Air Force in the competition. He’s realistic; he knows scheduling complications mean the three cup games could be played only once every four seasons.
“I think it would be kind of neat,” Calhoun said. “It would be great for this state, be great for college football.”
I talked with Bohn on Monday, and he listened to Calhoun’s idea. Bohn and Calhoun talk with the same full-of-exclamation-marks style.
Is Bohn interested in a Governor’s Cup?
“Absolutely!” he answered.
The Air Force-CU rivalry enjoyed a strong start. The schools played 16 times from 1958 to 1974 with CU winning 12, but these were exciting struggles. Five of Air Force’s losses were by 10 points or less; two of the losses were by one point.
Alas, the rivalry is cursed with painful history. The Falcons final two visits to Boulder in 1971 and 1973 were filled with mayhem.
I talked in 2009 with the late Lt. Gen. Albert Clark, Air Force’s superintendent from 1970-74. Clark, who was 96, had clear memories of those final journeys to the CU campus. During the latter days of the Vietnam War, many CU students lashed out against the military.
Students pelted Clark’s staff with eggs and nailed him in the back of the neck with a frozen can of beer. Cadets’ uniforms were torn, hats stolen.
“The college was pretty riotous,” Clark said in his steady voice.
He found a simple way to end the anarchy. He ended the series.
But Clark softened his view as he approached the end of his life. “I don’t hold a bitterness forever,” he said, adding he would not “protest” if Air Force renewed the rivalry.
Not everyone is so forgiving. I recently asked Air Force fans on my blog for their thoughts about playing CU. I enjoyed a tidal wave of response.
Many Falcons fans supported playing CU. Many were opposed.
A reader known as Hrdwkr believes CU students are “severely indoctrinated with a blind rage toward the military” and wonders if the campus still is inhabited by the “same ignorant blind group of idiots.” Hrdwkr was not alone in his feelings about CU.
Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh resides in the middle. He understands the benefits of forgiveness but worries about complications. Many football players from the early 1970s remain angry about their experiences in Boulder, Mueh said. He understands their feelings.
“Some of the ugliest games in the history of the academy,” Mueh said. He knows playing CU would, using his words, “tick off” a sizable portion of Air Force graduates.
And yet …
One Air Force alum is eager to see the rivalry renewed. Lt. Gen. Mike Gould graduated from Air Force in 1976, when memories of the Boulder disasters remained fresh. Gould, the academy’s superintendent, supports playing the Buffs, perhaps partially because he’s married to a CU grad.
“That’s old, past history,” Gould said of the Boulder troubles, “and it has absolutely nothing with the way I look at it today. I love what they do up there.”
Yes, there’s bad history. And, yes, figuring out football schedules is about as easy as figuring out the meaning of life.
But remember, empty seats abound, and a packed stadium beckons.
Please, just play the game.