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Oral history: Air Force's thrilling victory over Notre Dame in 1985

October 25, 2013 Updated: October 26, 2013 at 4:27 am
photo - Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry 1984-2006 waves to the crowd at the College Hall of Fame blazer presentation part of the Hall's Enshrinement Festival Friday July 20, 2012 in South Bend, Ind.  (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry 1984-2006 waves to the crowd at the College Hall of Fame blazer presentation part of the Hall's Enshrinement Festival Friday July 20, 2012 in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond) 

Air Force had defeated Notre Dame for three consecutive years and sported a perfect 4-0 record as it hosted the Fighting Irish in the fifth week of the 1985 season. The end of the game produced one of the great moments in Air Force athletics history.


A.J. SCOTT (former Air Force strong safety): As we were growing up you always watched Notre Dame, Nebraska, Oklahoma and USC. For us to be able to play them on a yearly basis was pretty exciting. You also knew that there were a lot of guys playing on that team that you would eventually see playing on Sundays.


FISHER DeBERRY (former Air Force coach): It was like any Notre Dame team. They were very, very strong team, big team; but I thought we had a good football team and I knew it would be a heck of a game and I knew our kids wouldn't back down from them.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Notre Dame had the ball and a 15-13 lead.


SCOTT: I remember they were driving south to north, heading back toward the cadets. It felt like they just decided at that time that 'We're just going to take the ball and we're going to run it down Air Force's throat.' . It was kind of demoralizing because we prided ourselves on being a bend-but-don't-break defense and we were bending an awful lot during that drive and they were just moving it straight down the field on us.

Notre Dame ran the ball to the 2-yard line, where it had first and goal. Two negative-yardage plays led to a third-down play at the 10 when quarterback Steve Beurlein intentionally grounded the ball while being sacked. John Carney then ran on to attempt a 37-yard field goal.


DeBERRY: My coaches used to fuss at me all the time and say, 'Coach, we're spending too much time on the kicking game,' meaning they're not having enough time to get their offensive and defensive work in. I'd just try to tell them that this was a third of the game, if not more, and you lose more games by inconsistency in the kicking game than anything else.


SCOTT: Every season coach would bring in referees and we would talk about rule changes and things that you could do and special situations. Believe it or not, that year one of the special situations we had talked about was a blocked kick going up in the air and whether you could return it or not.


DeBERRY: We had a rush on and (linebacker Terry Maki) came pretty clean. Of course he had the physical presence of a rusher and he didn't mind throwing his body around. Even if he got kicked in the bad place it didn't make any difference to him - he was going to block that kick. Of course it was miraculous that it went straight up in the air.


SCOTT: It was almost like a double shotgun with the sound of the kick and then from somebody hitting it. I could see the ball go up in the air and I started tracking it. As the ball was coming down, Scott Thomas was tracking it also. He was standing right next to me when I caught the ball. I took off running and there was a chance that I could have tripped and fell. He actually had put his hand on my hip and crossed back to the interior to go block somebody. As he did he kicked my leg and my foot kicked the back of my calf and I just pulled it on through and kept running, but I was probably a nanosecond from falling.


DeBERRY: A.J. was so bow-legged and he was running so close to sidelines that his knees were out of bounds. I was scared the side judge or the field judge was going to call him out.

Scott, who competed in the 400-meter dash as a high schooler in Texas, outran the Notre Dame defense for a 77-yard touchdown.


SCOTT: We knew there was still a lot of time left, but I think once we had scored the extra point and kicked off you could kind of see that they were a little deflated. They were driving down the field on us and getting ready to put it away and we go ahead and block the kick and take it back and that just kind of took the wind out of their sails.


TROY CALHOUN (current Air Force coach who was then a freshman for the Falcons): I was at about the 35-yard line, just behind the kicker, when it occurred. It was a neat deal. I do think we had better team speed and better quickness than they did on that day.


STEVE BEURLEIN (Notre Dame QB to reporters after the game): It was nothing they did to us. We did it to ourselves. Every time we need a big play, something happens. We should have scored three or four touchdowns, but we kept hurting ourselves. . Air Force was waiting for us to crack, and we did it today, too many times.


SCOTT: Terry (Maki), that day, I don't know, I guess he was just on fire. He had (an Air Force-record) 30 tackles and was just amazing, he was all over the field.


DeBERRY: That was a routine day for Terry. That's why he was an All-American. To have that type of game against a team as talented as Notre Dame speaks pretty well of his ability, but that's how he played every week and that's why he was recognized as being a great player.


GERRY FAUST (Notre Dame coach to reporters after the game): You can't lose one any tougher than that. The kids played their hearts out. You can't ask them to play any harder than they did today. This has to be tough on them. I feel for them.


SCOTT: It was the right time, right place, right person. All of that aligned and we were able to do something good with it.


DeBERRY: Obviously that was a big moment in Air Force history. . It was a miracle and all of America got to see it because it was on national television and there weren't that many games on. I mean, there were games on, but it wasn't anything like the concentration you have now.


SCOTT: That is still a play that many people remember. I was down in the police department the other day getting fingerprints to be able to teach. I was talking to a man, an older gentleman, probably been retired for 20 years. We started talking about the academy in that time period and he goes, 'Hey, do you remember that play with Notre Dame?' I go, 'I remember the play because that was me.' He goes, 'You're kidding me.' I run into people like that all the time.



Air Force finished 12-1 in that 1985 season, falling a touchdown short of playing for a national championship after losing 28-21 at BYU. Notre Dame went 5-6 and hired Lou Holtz the following season and quickly revived the proud program. The Irish won a national title in 1988 and have won 12 of 14 against Air Force since that four-game skid.

Fisher DeBerry coached the Falcons for 21 more years and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

A.J. Scott served a long career with the Air Force that included a stint as the prep school football coach. He has since retired from active duty and settled into the Colorado Springs area where he works as a diversity recruiter in the academy's admission's office. He admits that he is known better these days not for his own athletic exploits, but for those of his five sons (most notably Colorado basketball standout Josh Scott). A.J. remains married to fellow Air Force graduate Theresa Scott. Her hometown? South Bend, Ind.

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