Gregg Popovich addressed the crowd via video in an "Air Force Family" shirt, Fisher DeBerry stole the show in person and one of the all-time great Falcons hockey players offered one of the all-time great descriptions of his oft-quotable coach.
“He’s a good guy,” Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn recalls telling his parents after meeting coach Frank Serratore on his official visit as a high school student. “He’s like Joe Pesci and Woody Woodpecker put together.”
As Air Force inducted its seventh class into its Athletics Hall of Fame at Arnold Hall on Saturday the mood shifted frequently from somber — such as honoring players, coaches and support staff from the 1985 football team who are no longer living — to reflective.
Former volleyball standout and Rhodes Scholar Delavane Diaz thanked her family and told the story of how her tennis-playing father defected from Cuba while in Mexico as part of the 1968 Olympic delegation.
Ehn, Diaz and football linebacker Chris Gizzi were the athletes honored in this class. Gizzi, now the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, was pulsating with energy as he took the podium.
“Now I’m amped,” he said.
The headliner of the night was Popovich.
“Cadet Popovich 703621K reporting for duty,” he said.
“For all you cadets that might be there,” the five-time NBA champion coach of the San Antonio Spurs said. “I’m sure you have days when you’re wondering why you’re here, or things look pretty tough. Let me tell you, there was no bigger wise guy than me upon entering the academy, and to this day I think back to all the lessons that I learned there that have informed me and helped organize my life in this profession. I couldn’t be more proud of having graduated from the academy, and being honored right now is very special.”
Popovich, a 1970 Air Force grad and former Falcons assistant, also lamented missing the chance to shake hands with fellow inductee Wayne Baughman, the longtime Air Force wrestling coach and former Olympian.
“Toughest man in the valley,” Popovich called Baughman.
The 1985 Air Force football team that went 12-1 and finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation was represented by DeBerry, the Hall of Fame coach of the team, and All-Americans Scott Thomas and Chad Hennings.
They then invited the more than 30 members of the team, including current coach Troy Calhoun, onto the stage as DeBerry took the mic.
“Football is important,” DeBerry said, “and this team put the academy’s program on the map as one of the most successful programs in the nation.”
DeBerry reiterated the turtle-on-a-fence post analogy — "it didn’t get there on its own" — and explained how the ’85 Falcons' success could be traced to its sense of family and respect for each other.
“That love for each other was so real as we gathered last night in the new dressing room,” DeBerry said of the team’s reunion in the renovated locker rooms at Falcon Stadium. “I felt like I was in the Waldorf-Astoria.
“And for the 2019 Falcons,” DeBerry closed in a shout, “Go get ‘em.”