Silence was shattered in the predawn hours Monday at the Air Force by the fight song of the enemy.
Well, the enemy for this week.
An Army exchange cadet at Air Force gained access to a dorm’s speaker system and blared the alma mater to sleeping cadets, ushering in game week for the programs’ football teams.
“I was extremely confused, waking up at 3:30 in the morning,” Falcons fullback Jacob Stafford said. “I thought it was 6:30 and I was like, ‘Why is someone playing music over the intercom right now?’ My roommate was yelling at me, telling me to turn off the music, and I was like, ‘I don’t even know where this is coming from.’”
Air Force can’t really claim peers among its Mountain West brethren. Anyone doubting that should have watched coach Troy Calhoun’s disinterested look in Las Vegas this past July when coaches from the conference participated in a panel discussion that touched on new NCAA policies and procedures. The issues facing the Falcons and those for the other 11 just aren’t comparable.
But with Army, right down to the on-campus pranks and offenses, it’s an apples-to-apples discussion.
“It’s triple option vs. triple option, so you get to see who runs it better, in a sense,” Air Force tailback Tim McVey said. “It’s the same thing with Navy, too. It’s cool to match up offense for offense.”
Army enters with the nation’s No. 2 rushing attack (362.1 ypg), led by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw’s 867 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Air Force is at No. 3 (350.4), led by quarterback Arion Worthman’s 764 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Falcons pass significantly more, throwing 83 times for 830 yards and nine scores compared to Army’s 56 attempts for 266 yards and two touchdowns.
The familiarity and similarities add to the fun of the rivalry, particularly on the grounds of West Point and the Air Force Academy. Exchange cadets have been known to have their clothes taken from their dorms and left with only tutus and cheerleading uniforms to wear – this being done, in service academy fashion, only after paperwork has been submitted and permission granted.
McVey said he heard of a West Point exchange cadet who awoke to inflatables filled with water and surrounding his bed in an effort to “bring the Hudson River to his room.”
It’s been easier for Air Force to laugh about all this, as it has dominated the rivalry with four straight wins and a 25-3 mark since 1989.
But Army, which has been outscored 74-21 by the Falcons over the past three years, appears to be inching closer. After finishing with an average national ranking of 133.8 in the season-end USA Today Sagarin computer ratings since 2000, the Black Knights jumped up to No. 87 last year (compared to Air Force’s No. 53) and are currently No. 81, while the Falcons are 78.
Army (6-2) – riding a four-game winning streak and coming off a bye week – knocked off Navy last season and fourth-year coach Jeff Monken would like nothing more than to take out Air Force (4-4) to open a path to the program’s first Commander-in-Chief’s trophy since 1996.
“I think as the coach you feel a sense of responsibility to do that,” Monken said. “I know what a big deal it is to this institution, just as it is to the others. It is a great sense of responsibility I have. Hopefully we'll be able to do it.”
Since Monken has taken over, this series has taken on a slightly different tone. Calhoun has made the puzzling claim last year that Army had the biggest built-in advantage in college football because of its location and history (he put USC at No. 2). A month later Monken lamented Air Force’s recruiting advantage in December when Army and Navy are preparing for their annual game, though he noted: “They have nothing that will ever come close to the Army-Navy game.”
This is obviously tame compared to the rhetoric in other rivalries, but these volleys have added a new layer here.
Calhoun classified his relationship with Monken as “very respectful.”
At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, these rivals will kick off for the 52nd time. It figures to be competitive, a little heated and, if the week leading up to it is any indication, fun.
“It’s one of those things where you dream about this stuff when you’re about to come play for Air Force,” Stafford said. “You’re just like, ‘Wow, I just want to play in one of these games and have the opportunity to do this.’”