At about 4,000, the attendance at Falcon Stadium on Saturday will be about one-tenth of the norm for a service academy game at Air Force.
But Navy knows those allowed inside — the full cadet wing — will make themselves heard.
“I don’t think we should take lightly what the cadets can do,” Midshipmen quarterback Dalen Morris said. “I feel like they’ll bring a lot of energy to the game.”
Even without the issues surrounding Air Force football — around 40 players left on administrative turnbacks for the semester when it appeared football would be played in spring — this game was already going to be strange.
Falcon Stadium saw 41,401 turn out last year when Army visited. In 2018, there were 40,175 when Navy came to town. These games annually attract the largest crowds of the season (Air Force averaged 24,220 for its other five home games last year, to give a sense of the boost the service academy rivalries bring). This year COVID-19 precautions will limit the size, despite at least some efforts to the contrary. An online petition made the rounds, gaining 130 supporters as of Wednesday evening, asking on behalf of Falcons fans to be allowed to “cheer on our team!!! Let parents see their kids play and wives watch their husbands coach, and fans watch their favorite team!”
But as it stands, fans in Colorado Springs will go elsewhere to watch the game. The Rocky Mountain Vibes are hosting a watch party for up to 500, complete with social distancing, concessions and Air Force swag. Other gatherings will be held at Rib & Chop House off Dublin Boulevard and Brass Tap located on Bass Pro Drive. The Air Force athletics twitter page tweeted information to have tailgate packages delivered to homes or businesses this fall.
But inside the stadium, it will be cadets in the stands and cadet-athletes and Midshipmen on the field and that’s about it.
Air Force has lost just one home service academy game since 2012, falling to Army in a shutout in 2017.
“The cadets can definitely kind of join behind us and give us some kind of home-field advantage,” Falcons outside linebacker Grant Donaldson said.
CBS Sports found that the .5949 winning percentage for home teams this season represents the 12th lowest home-field advantage in college football since 1967. Navy knows this firsthand. The Midshipmen were blasted by BYU 55-3 at home in front of no fans in the season opener in Annapolis, Md., then traveled to Tulane and won 27-24 in comeback fashion on the road in an empty stadium.
“I’m sure they’ll have (the cadets) right behind our bench like they normally do,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, who is 2-4 at Air Force.
“It will be interesting with only the cadets there. Every game is different. ... We’ve obviously played there many times in a full stadium, but this will be different.”