October 19, 2011
Fisher DeBerry is thrilled about Air Force’s football journey to Boise this weekend. He can’t wait to watch the game.
Yes, Fisher sounds a little out of touch, but he’s not. The man has history on his side.
“You want to play a team that everybody believes is 40 points better than you,” DeBerry said from Oklahoma, his new home. “This is what you dream about if you’re a competitor. This is an opportunity for greatness.”
Not many share DeBerry’s excitement. The Falcons will arrive in Idaho as 31 1/2-point underdogs. Boise State annihilated Colorado State, 63-14, but that bombardment took place in Fort Collins. The Broncos are tougher when playing on their hideous blue carpet, where they have won 79 of 81 games since 1998.
DeBerry, who coached the Falcons from 1984 to 2006, remains undaunted. He sees a possible upset in the making. And, no, he’s not kidding.
He looks to one of Air Force’s finest yesterdays for encouragement. He laughed as he traveled back to Oct. 19, 1996, when Air Force traveled to South Bend to tangle with the 8th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Air Force had just lost to Navy at Falcon Stadium. Air Force was destined for a so-so 6-5 record. Air Force had been stampeded in 1995 by Notre Dame, 44-14. Air Force was ravaged by injury, especially on its offensive line.
None of these facts mattered to DeBerry, who preached defiance to his Falcons. Oddsmakers predicted Notre Dame would win by 21 points. This thrilled DeBerry, who knew the doubters would enrage his players.
“We’re not going to lay down, that’s for damn sure,” said outside linebacker Steve Fernandez the week of the game. “We can shock the world.”
And that’s exactly what the Falcons did. In the first half, the tattered offensive line opened gaping holes for quarterback Beau Morgan, who punished the Fighting Irish defense for 135 yards in the first 30 minutes.
Notre Dame safety Deke Cooper, destined to play in the NFL, showed surprising honesty after the game. Air Force’s intricate, quirky Fishbone offense baffled him.
“I was just confused,” Cooper said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
Meanwhile, Notre Dame faced a snarling Air Force rush defense. The Irish had rushed for 397 yards the previous week against Washington, but managed a mere 67 yards on 37 carries against the Falcons.
Air Force won in overtime, 20-17, making Fernandez a prophet.
The football world was shocked. No one was more shocked than Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. “Dee Dowis played tremendous,” Holtz said after the game. For some reason, Holtz confused Morgan with Dowis, who had graduated in 1989.
Could Air Force repeat this magic?
DeBerry walks through the world as a confirmed optimist, which explains why he sees a possible repeat upset at Boise. His view is preposterous. Air Force’s defense has allowed 100 points in its last two games while Boise State has scored 120 points. This could turn into a football massacre.
And yet …
These Broncos never have battled Air Force’s option, which remains as unpredictable under Troy Calhoun’s direction as it was when DeBerry ran the show.
“They don’t have enough time to prepare for what we’re going to show them,” DeBerry said of the Broncos. “Yes, they had all week, but that’s not long enough. That’s an advantage for Air Force.”
Let me make this clear:
I don’t share DeBerry’s sunny view. I look at Boise and look at Air Force and see two teams riding in opposite directions. The Broncos are stampeding opponents. The Falcons are getting stampeded.
Still, there’s a chance. A microscopic one, but not out of the realm of possibility. A true upset is one of the finest gifts of sports, and all of us could be blessed with a surprise jolt.
All of us, that is, except a believer named Fisher.