Why no one cares about Air Force games like they do Army-Navy

Seemingly forgotten in all this hoopla about the Army-Navy game is the United States Air Force Academy. What’s the deal? It’s not like the Air Force fields a bunch of slouches. In fact, the Air Force Academy Falcons have had a number of outstanding players, including 1987 Outland Trophy winner Chad Hennings and quarterback Dee Dowis, a 1989 Heisman finalist. In 1985, they were ranked #2 and came pretty close to a championship.

Dee Dowis finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1989, the highest finish for any Air Force player. He was inducted into the Academy’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009. (US Air Force photo)

So, why do the Falcons get so little spotlight compared to the Black Knights and the Midshipmen? Well, one small consideration is geography: While the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis are both on the East Coast, the Air Force Academy is in Colorado Springs — way out west. Geography matters in rivalries. Do you think the Bears and Packers would have the biggest rivalry in NFL history if it weren’t for proximity? The Air Force is simply too far away to build a lasting rivalry with the other branches.

Falcon senior Chad Hall turns the corner on Colorado State linebacker Ricky Brewer during Air Force’s 45 -21 win over the Rams Oct. 13, 2007, in Fort Collins, Colo. Hall set the Academy’s all-time single-game rushing record with 256 yards on 31 carries. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Also, the Air Force Academy is a (relatively) recent addition. Their football team started in 1955, a full 65 years after Army and Navy began their rivalry. All great sports rivalries develop over time. Bears-Packers? 96 years. Harvard-Yale? 142 years. Army-Navy? 120 years. You can see the trend.

The Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, 2003. The Air Force has won this trophy 20 out of the 45 years it’s existed. (U.S. Air Force photo.)

We’ve got one last theory for you: the competition for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. This trophy is awarded to the service branch’s football team that emerges victorious over the other two in a given season. The Air Force Academy has earned this trophy outright 20 times and retained it once due to a service-wide tie. The Navy has 15 wins and has retained it three times and the Army’s won 6.

President Donald Trump presents the Commander in Chief’s trophy to the United States Air Force Academy. (White House photo)

Maybe all the Army and Navy fans are busy trying to forget that the Air Force Academy Falcons win so often. Air Force might not be in the running for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy this year, but when Army and Navy face off, remember that there’s a third, formidable team waiting in the wings.

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