Army’s celebration, if you could even call it that, was brief, subdued and boring.
Oh, there was plenty of reason to rejoice. The Black Knights silenced Air Force’s offense, ending the Falcons’ 306-game streak of scoring at least a point or three. The Black Knights ended decades of frustration, winning for only the third time in 21 games against Air Force. The Black Knights trashed a rising Air Force team that bombarded Colorado State a week earlier.
But even after all that, Army players declined to dance and shout. Army players shook hands with the Falcons, quietly listened to Air Force’s alma mater and trotted to the locker room.
Why party after an expected result?
On Wednesday, I talked by phone with Army coach Jeff Monken, who sounded like a man who believed he would win Saturday. This explains why Monken was respectfully nonchalant when he delivered victory.
“Hey,” Monken said, “we had a game plan. We executed it. We got the result we expected.”
The result he really wants is a service-academy sweep. Monken yearns for the gloriously ugly Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy to return to West Point for the first time since 1996.
“It’s great to win the game,” he said, “but it’s not a team goal of ours. It’s not up on any board or anything anywhere. To win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is, but this only gives us a chance to do that.”
Army battles Navy Dec. 9 in Philadelphia. Yes, Navy has won 10 of the last 14 Commander-in-Chief’s titles, but Army boasts a one-game win streak over its arch-rival. Expect a hugely entertaining game.
For decades, Army’s program wandered, lost and battered in the wilderness of college football. When Monken arrived in 2013, the Black Knights had lost 144 of 190 games. Hope wasn’t lost. It was only almost lost.
Saturday’s victory serves as a siren announcement to Air Force fans, players and coaches: Army is done wandering. The Black Knights will offer a fierce, consistent opponent as long as Monken remains at West Point, and I have a feeling he will remain a long time.
Army’s rise is wonderful news for college football. It’s not such wonderful news for those with emotional ties to Air Force’s football team.
Lt. Gen. Bob Caslen serves as superintendent at West Point. He’s waited a long time for Army’s football revival.
“They won it for the entire United States Army,” Caslen said outside Army’s locker room, “and they won it for America, because if America wants to see what is right with America today, all they had to do is turn on the TV and watch the Army football team.”
We are in the midst of a golden age of service-academy football. Air Force, Navy and Army combined for 27 wins in 2016, the highest total ever. The programs feature three of the finest coaches in college football. The good times should linger.
That’s the big picture.
The more immediate picture is depressing for the Falcons.
What a strange, impossible-to-understand Air Force football team. The Falcons offense has been mighty this season, even in losses. That same Falcons offense that destroyed CSU was barely breathing on Saturday. I expected a high-scoring shootout. Army turned the game into a slow-dance beatdown.
The Black Knights rushed for 392 yards, quadrupling Air Force’s 95. The Black Knights never punted. The Black Knights waved at Air Force cadets after touchdowns.
Army senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw rampaged to 265 rushing yards, but he departed wanting even more.
“Um, yeah, actually, I wanted to score a few more points, honestly,” Bradshaw said.
But, of course, he spoke the words calmly. Bradshaw and his comrades made one truth abundantly clear:
Their utter domination did not surprise them.