Troy Calhoun will not receive a new pair of boots and a cowboy hat this year, at least not courtesy of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
The Air Force football coach had been fitted with new Western wear in his previous trips to the Fort Worth, Texas-based bowl, but those in charge of the Dec. 29 game figured they’d better switch some things up this year to prevent the experience from becoming, well, old hat.
“We’ll come up with something else to add to his outfit,” bowl executive director Brant Ringler said Tuesday, shortly before welcoming Calhoun and a small entourage of Air Force officials who joined those from Rice for an introductory press conference, a helicopter ride and a meet-and-greet with locals.
This will mark the fourth time in six years that the Falcons have participated in the bowl – though it comes after a two-year break – creating a scenario that left bowl officials at least mildly concerned about keeping things fresh for their return guests.
“We’ll mix it up a little bit,” Ringler said. “We’ve thought about that in the past, you know, what would happen if the same team came several years in a row. But it’s been a couple of years, so there’s a whole new set of players who can enjoy what we provide them. We love having them, and I think they love being here as well.”
Air Force clearly wanted to be there. Though several options remained viable, the Falcons accepted an invitation to the bowl immediately after becoming eligible with a Nov. 16 victory over Hawaii.
“Just a class, class bowl,” said Calhoun, whose teams are 1-3 in the bowl that moves back to TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium - which received $164 million in renovations - after being held for the past two years at Southern Methodist University. “And certainly to be able to play in this splendid venue is certainly a great opportunity that our guys have earned.
“We have some good memories here.”
Troy Garnhart, Air Force associate athletic director for communications, echoed the sentiment.
“We joked, but it’s serious, when we got the invitation, we said ‘we’re looking forward to going home,’" Garnhart said. “If there was ever a bowl made for us, it’s this one.”
With Air Force providing a military tie-in and Rice, located in Houston, providing an in-state competitor, the bowl sees the draw as the ideal scenario for a contest pitting a pair of .500 teams.
“We always try to have at least one anchor team, this year I think we have two,” Ringler said.
The most attended games in Armed Forces Bowl history were in 2009 and 2008, when games between Air Force and Houston both drew crowds of more than 41,000. This matchup provides an almost identical scenario.
Air Force (6-6) will arrive in Fort Worth on Dec. 24. Rice (6-6) arrives the night of the 25th. The teams will be ushered through a week of hospitality and events, including a luncheon for which College Football Hall of Famer Joe Theismann will serve as the keynote speaker.
Several military-themed events will highlight the game itself, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. More than 100 Wounded Warriors will be honored on the field, 125 recruits will be added to the military ranks (25 apiece from five branches) and R. Lee Ermey (who played the drill instructor in “Full Metal Jacket”) will deliver the game ball after riding in on a motorcycle.
Ringler promised more surprises that will be unveiled during the leadup to the game. For now, they, like a new accessory for Calhoun, remain under wraps.