Don’t turn off the TV. Or the radio. Or your sense of possibility.
That’s right. When Air Force falls behind to No. 7 Michigan in Saturday’s trip to The Big House, don’t be easily discouraged.
Yes, the Falcons face enormous odds. They will battle a larger, faster opponent that’s led by a coach, Jim Harbaugh, who is both a football genius and an exceedingly odd character. They will listen to the enraged shouts of more than 108,000 fans.
But recent history does its own shouting about this game. The Falcons boast a superb chance to scare the Wolverines and Harbaugh and those tens of thousands of fans.
In 2012, I was in The Big House to watch an average Air Force team tangle with 19th-ranked Michigan. The Falcons, depleted by injury, would go on to finish with six wins and seven losses. The Falcons' best player was halfback Cody Getz, who stood 5-foot-7 (maybe) and weighed 165 pounds.
The Falcons had no chance, right?
Oh, it looked bleak. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, one of the fastest college players ever, sprinted 79 yards on the Wolverines’ second play from scrimmage. Michigan rolled to 14-3 and 21-10 leads. The Falcons often looked done.
Except they weren’t.
Getz was sensational, and Air Force’s defense strengthened while Robinson and Michigan ran out of fuel. The Falcons cut the lead to 28-25 in the fourth quarter before falling, 31-25. The game was even closer than the score. Air Force was crippled by two failed fourth-down gambles, a botched fake field goal and a missed field goal.
Some Air Force players, and some Air Force teams, thrive on harsh conditions. They find inspiration in hostility. They look across the line, see a group of players more talented and more massive and for reasons I don’t fully understand their belief multiplies.
Of course, these trips to college powerhouses are not always so full of thrills and inspiration. I’m still trying to recover from Air Force’s 2011 trip to Notre Dame, where the Falcons suffered through a 59-33 beat-down under the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus. The game was much more lopsided than the score. It was ugly. It was hard to watch. It was deflating.
But the 2012 Michigan trip was not an isolated incident in the 10-season Troy Calhoun era.
In 2010, the Falcons traveled to Norman to face No. 7 Oklahoma and a roaring crowd. They fell behind 27-10, and the temptation was there, once again, to turn off the TV, or the radio.
This time, it was Air Force lineman Rick Ricketts, a tough, borderline sinister anchor of the defense, who led the comeback. With Ricketts holding the middle, the Sooners offense evaporated in the game’s late minutes.
Air Force scored consecutive touchdowns, cutting the lead to three points with 3:19 left. I will always be convinced the Falcons would have delivered an upset of historic levels if Ricketts and the defense could have held the Sooners a final time.
They couldn’t. The Sooners ran out the clock and escaped with a 27-24 win.
But those Air Force fans who resisted temptation and embraced hope watched an incredible, memorable football game.