FORWARD AND BACKWARD. Formulating an opinion as to which college football team "should" win a game is a topic of acute subjectivity. And yet, there is often something approaching a rational consensus as to which team is the better squad, particularly before a game is contested.
Over the past decade Air Force seems to have pulled at least one upset each fall while managing to stub its toe against some perceived lesser foe on the schedule. In any given year Air Force fans may bemoan the fact that "geez, we could have gone to an even better bowl game if only the team hadn't lost to West Dakota A & M." That may be true, but what is omitted, in that case, from the fans' plaintive cry is that AFA positioned itself to earn a bowl bid because it upset Big State Tech in a turn of events no one foresaw going the Falcons' way. It seems that every football season Fisher DeBerry's crew affixes its signature to a victory and a defeat which came out of nowhere.
MORE OFTEN THAN NOT. Beginning with the 1993 season and continuing to the 2002 season, AFA regularly has produced a shockingly pleasant win and a discouraging loss during its schedule of games. Have a look.
1993. Fisher DeBerry had what was arguably his least talented squad. Its only wins came against division 1-AA Indiana State--and no, Larry Bird did not quarterback the Sycamores that day--The Citadel, and division 1-A bottom feeders Texas-El Paso and Army. This is one of the few seasons in which AFA did not post an upset victory. As for a disheartening loss, the Falcons met a team which had a new head coach that year. This rookie led his team to a mediocre 5-6 record on the year. His first game at the helm of his squad came against Fisher DeBerry's Falcons. Air Force lost that day by the unlikely score of 8-5 in a game which featured more FGs and safeties--two each--than TDs, one. It's also fair to point out that since that farcical game and nondescript season, the CSU Rams and Sonny Lubick have enjoyed more than a little success. Still, the game's outcome was disappointing.
1994. The trend picks up some steam. AFA opens the season with three straight defeats at home. The third game in this string was a 14-7 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats in an afternoon which featured countless missed scoring opportunities by the Falcons. AFA went on to win eight of its last nine games that fall including a 40-33 upset of the nationally ranked Utah Utes.
1995. The season began with Air Force pounding long time WAC powerhouse BYU, 38-12, in front of a stunned crowd in Falcon Stadium. The deluge of points and ease with which the Falcons cruised to victory were as shocking as they were well recieved. Six weeks later the Falcons were involved in what many fans still believe to be DeBerry's most disheartening and improbable loss as the team's head coach. Leading 21-7 in the game's final minutes, Air Force surrendered a TD to the Utes and a two point conversion. The Utes successfully executed an onside kick and in short order scored a second TD, kicked the game winning PAT and pulled the proverbial rug out from under Air Force in a game in which Utah prevailed 22-21.
1996. Games played on consecutive weekends in mid-October of this fall served as the quintessential examples of the ebb and flow inherent in the performances of student-athletes at a service academy. Playing in Falcon Stadium, Air Force scored a game tying TD late in the fourth quarter against Navy. A special teams' breakdown on the ensuing kickoff return found Navy in great field position near the fifty yard line. The Midshipmen drove to field goal range and booted the game winning kick with nine seconds remaining for a 20-17 win. Seven days later AFA hit the road to South Bend, Indiana where the team posted a 20-17 overtime win, on national television, over Notre Dame, in a game in which the Falcons rushed for over 300 yards and held the Irish to just over 100 yards on the ground. A loss at home to Navy followed by an overtime win, on the road, against Notre Dame is the ultimate example of the Falcons taking one step backward and one step forward.
1997. The highlight of this season came during the first of two shutouts posted by the Falcons. On a damp, foggy night in Hughes Stadium, in a game played before a national television audience, Air Force beat the CSU Rams 24-0. The Falcons mounted a 7-0 start before splitting its final six games in DeBerry's fourteenth year as the team's head coach. The Falcons traveled to San Jose late in October and fell 25-22 to an inept Spartans' team.
1998. This is only the second year in the past decade which found the Falcons not losing on an unexpected basis. The team's one loss on the season came on the road, by one point, 35-34, to a Texas Christian University team led by a young halfback named LaDainian Tomlinson. He ran for 99 yards that night, a figure considerably lower than the one he posts on many Sundays this fall while in the employ of the San Diego Chargers. This loss was countered by the Falcons' 20-13 upset of the BYU Cougars in the WAC championship game, played three weeks before Air Force would beat Washington on Christmas Night in the Oahu Bowl.
1999. The potentially erratic performance of cadet/student/athletes was again in evidence in this season. Air Force made the trek to Seattle to play in Huskie Stadium in early September. Washington had fallen to Air Force 45-25 the previous bowl season in Hawaii and were eager for a return match. The Huskies had lost a minuscule number of non-conference games at home in the preceding eleven years. Air Force posted a victory by a 31-21 margin, and in so doing laid claim to the longest active winning streak in division 1-A college football at eleven games. The streak wouldn't last long. Air Force returned to Falcon Stadium the following weekend for a game against Wyoming. The Cowboys won the game 10-7 in an exhibition best remembered for the teams' collective inability to mount any serious offensive sorties throughout the afternoon.
2000. AFA QB Mike Thiessen produced a shocking aerial assault of three TD passes for the Falcons as Air Force dispatched BYU, 32-23, in Falcon Stadium. Six weeks later, playing in an early morning time slot dictated by ESPN, the Falcons played as if still asleep while losing to the New Mexico Lobos, 29-23. In his post-game radio remarks that day, Fisher DeBerry openly apologized to AFA