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.
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.
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.
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.
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.