WEST POINT • Quarterback Donald Hammond III made a gigantic promise, and he made the promise twice.
“We’re not going to lose to them again,” Hammond said of the Army team that defeated Air Force, 17-14. “I’m going to make that promise to my teammates. We’re not going to lose to them again.”
Let’s stop for a moment to consider the promise. Army has won 20 of 25 games, including four straight over service-academy brethren Air Force and Navy. Air Force, meanwhile, has lost nine of 12 to Football Bowl Subdivision opponents and twice in a row to Army.
But, hey, the Falcons will not lose to the Black Knights again during Hammond’s career, which stretches another two seasons.
A gigantic promise. And a defiant one, too.
The Falcons did not depart quietly. Immediately after the game, the Falcons and the Black Knights engaged in a hostile standoff near midfield. One of the Falcons raised middle fingers to the champions of service-academy football.
Defiance works that way. Defiance can inspire a young man to tumble into the dumb move of raising middle fingers in a crowd in the era of handy smartphone cameras.
But defiance might inspire Hammond and the youthful members of Air Force team to overthrow the Black Knights, who seem on the verge of a long era as emperors of service-academy football.
No reward, and no fun, is found in finishing as second-best team in the three-team service academy football race.
The champ grabs all the good stuff, including the 170-pound Commander-in-Chief’s trophy, and runner-up losers are left to plot revenge against the exalted winner.
The Black Knights’ transformation under Jeff Monken has been stunning. Army lost 34 of 38 games to Navy and Air Force from 1997 to 2015, and the Black Knights looked on their way to becoming permanent dwellers in college football’s dungeon.
Few slices of life are beyond hope. The Black Knights seemed to be one of those slices.
Army broke the dungeon locks, and a prime reason is attitude.
In the final minute, the Black Knights faced a fourth and 1. The safe, traditional call was to punt, but Monken is not into safety. He leads a run-all-the-time offense straight out of the 1930s, an offense that is all about power.
The Black Knights needed three feet to complete their burial of the Falcons, and Monken believed his Knights were “tough enough” to push the ball 36 inches.
“You can’t make it from that far, I don’t deserve to win,” Monken said.
If Monken remains at West Point, the Black Knights will remain a snarling force. Service-academy football is based on a primal, rush-obsessed offense, and Monken is as primal and obsessed as any coach in America.
After the defeat, Air Force free safety Jeremy Fejedelem at first tried the traditional, respectful approach.
“They’re tough guys, and I’m not going to say they’re not a great team,” Fejedelem said before saying Army is not a great team.
“But I don’t think they’re as good as people have them up to be. I think they’ve played a lot of teams that aren’t that great. They played Oklahoma well, but how often do those types of teams play triple-option teams? I mean, they’re not a bad team, but I just don’t like them. I’m sorry.”
No reason to be sorry, Jeremy. You’re just speaking honestly, from the heart. Someday, maybe your coach will embrace the honest, straight-from-the-heart approach, too. It is, after all, the best way to lead.
Fejedelem and the Falcons exposed Army. In the first half, the Black Knights looked ready to deliver a repeat stampede on the Falcons. In the second half, Air Force ranked as the superior force.
That second half can serve as a light to Hammond and Fejedelem and others as they seek to topple the champs of the little world of service-academy football. The vault from second-best to best in that little world is a highly possible leap.
Hammond’s promise was bold, and it could serve as another light to an Air Force program stuck in darkness.
But remember this about promises, Donald.
Easy to make.
Hard to keep.