Three fighter jets buzzed over the jam-packed Terrazzo. Cadets waved flags and proudly held signs. The band played as cheerleaders flipped through the air and The Bird danced.
It wasn’t your typical pregame fare at Air Force. ESPN livened up the academy with “College GameDay,” a two-hour football preview show Saturday that honored the country’s military, five days before Veterans Day and two days after a shooting rampage rocked Fort Hood in Texas.
“GameDay” had been to Colorado Springs only twice before – in 2002, when Air Force met Notre Dame in a battle of unbeatens, and in 2001, when Air Force played Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Falcons topped Army and lost to Notre Dame.
President Barack Obama opened the broadcast with a short videotaped message in which he praised “selfless heroes” for their service, and ESPN analyst Lee Corso closed it alongside 1985 All-American safety Scott Thomas by picking Air Force to beat Army. Sporting a blue flight suit, Corso slipped on The Bird’s head, then exclaimed, “Hey, Air Force!”
The most creative signs from the 2,000 cadets? “Lee: Flip us The Bird.” “Yo Corso, can I get a night pass?” “Mules can’t fly.” “I will find you, Bzdelik,” a reference to former Air Force men’s basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik. The least tasteful sign? “Bomb Army.”
Perhaps the highlight of the show was ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard taking rides Friday in F-15s. Howard said, “That’s 10 times better than any rollercoaster you’ve ever been on.” Herbstreit added, “I was nauseous for only about 85 minutes of that flight.”
“GameDay” host Chris Fowler, a 1980 Palmer High School graduate, called the Fort Hood tragedy a reminder of “how deep the sacrifices are for veterans, for active personnel, the debt that we owe them, the difficulties of troops not only serving abroad but here. … We can do our small part to express what it means to us. What better place to do it?”