The magic is back. I hear those words all the time from Air Force fans. Instead of finding ways to lose – which was Air Force’s unfortunate norm from 2004-2006 – the Falcons find ways to win. Troy Calhoun consistently outwits his coaching brethren. The Air Force option hums with power, and the defense delivers just enough stops. The Falcons, who entered this season unburdened by promise, look ready to travel to their second straight bowl game.
It’s easy to forget this level of excellence was the norm for more than two decades. From 1984 to 2003, Fisher DeBerry led the Falcons to 153 wins and 12 bowl berths.
And, most important to Air Force fans, Fisher used Army and Navy as personal punching bags.
In his first 19 seasons, DeBerry beat Navy 17 times, often by huge margins.
I still get e-mails from Navy fans complaining about DeBerry. They moan about how merciless he was while he beat up on their Midshipmen, year after year, decade after decade. Even though Fisher’s been retired for a season-and-a-half, these fans remain bitter. Many of these Navy fans make hilarious – and false – claims about Fisher’s lack of sportsmanship.
This lingering anger makes sense. DeBerry picked on the Midshipmen like a mean big brother picks on a little brother – make that, a really little brother. One of the bigger mistakes DeBerry made is when he allowed his Falcons to drown the Midshipmen, 48-7 in 2002. This ignited the considerable rage of Navy coach Paul Johnson, who then pushed Navy to four straight wins over Fisher and the Falcons.
Calhoun deserves applause for his accomplishments. So does Johnson, who used a DeBerry-like approach to revive Navy before departing to his current job at Georgia Tech. It’s not easy to win at a service academy. Just ask the long list of Army coaches who have failed to revive what was once one of the nation’s most powerful programs.
Johnson left Navy for a more traditional college football destination. Calhoun will almost certainly someday follow Johnson’s example. We may never see another service-academy coach match DeBerry’s depth of accomplishment.
DeBerry’s final three seasons, when he struggled to a 13-21 record, make it easy to forget his seasons of mastery.
But it’s a mistake to forget. DeBerry was, for two decades, one of the nation’s best coaches and the undisputed ruler of service-academy football.
If you’re an Air Force fan, you probably already know about Gazette beat writer Jake Schaller’s excellent Falcons blog. If not, take a look.
I eagerly await Jake’s BlogDog prediction for the Army-Air Force game.