Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- When the pageantry and cheering faded from Saturday’s 35-7 Air Force win over Army, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun put the game in perspective.
While Air Force and Army is one of the most heated rivalries in the country as it battles for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, a prize that’s also coveted -- and owned -- by Navy, it’s easy to forget what the game stands for.
“The reality is that every guy that was on that field today is a winner,” Calhoun said. “As a country, we’re fortunate as can be that we have young men and young women at these schools that are going to serve for us. They’re just remarkable young people and they make it where we’re able to enjoy some of the freedoms we have in this country.”
Even in defeat, the Army players appreciated Calhoun’s sentiment.
Army freshman quarterback Trent Steelman, who was playing in his first Commander-in-Chief game said he was disappointed in the loss, but that the game was something he’d remember for a lifetime.
“I was just exciting,” Steelman said. “It was an experience. Even though the outcome [wasn’t great] I’m going to take advantage of it and learn from it.”
Army, which hasn’t beaten Air Force since 2005 and has only beaten the Falcons twice in the past 20 tries, came out with a fire that’s not unusual in this game. They dominated Air Force on defense and took advantage of the few chances it had on offense.
Conversely, Air Force came out unusually flat. It amassed just 39 yards of total offense and three first downs in the first half. Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson said it was the most uninspired start to any Commander-in-Chief game that he’s ever been a part of.
“I think it was really odd,” Jefferson said. “This is the first game for me between Army and Navy so far where we just came out just sluggish. But, we found the switch and we switched it and we got things going.”
Air Force came out inspired in the second half and scored on four of its five possessions in the period. The Falcons had 259 yards of total offense in the second half, including several big plays that led to scores.
“On a day like this you just have a few things that cut at you,” Calhoun said. “You want to play well in these games. You know just how tough and how physical they are. Really, you come in and in a lot of ways, when you go play a game like this it’s bone against bone and knuckles rubbing against knuckles. When you look into the eyeballs of guys on both sides, these are extraordinary young people.”
The Air Force win was a little bittersweet. The Falcons have no shot to win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy because of an overtime loss to Navy earlier in the year. Even if Army were to upset Navy, the award would be split between the three schools and Navy would retain it because it won it last year.
However, the win did make Air Force bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.
Jefferson said there’s something unique about playing one of the other academies that can’t be replicated elsewhere. Each player knows that they’re brothers in defending the country, but before they get to the battlefield, they enjoy a bit of sibling rivalry.
“Off the field, they’re definitely our brothers,” Jefferson said. “On the field, we don’t want them to have any type of success at all. It’s a whole different type of atmosphere say when we’re in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a whole different story there. But on the field, between these stripes, we don’t want them to have any type of success.”