2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Fisher DeBerry appreciation

    Tue, October 28, 2008 by David Ramsey with 13 comments

    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.

    Especially Navy.

    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.

  • Why the Broncos will win the AFC West

    Mon, October 27, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    If you’re a Denver Broncos fans, there are two words that should keep you optimistic despite the Broncos wandering ways.

    The words:

    Norv Turner.

    Turner’s San Diego Chargers are jammed with talent. These same Chargers boast a 3-5 record. If Denver defeats the Miami Dolphins Nov. 2, the Broncos will zoom to a two-game lead over the Chargers with eight games to go. Turner is doing a great job of cementing his reputation as the NFL’s worst head coach.

    After San Diego lost its first two games – to Carolina and Denver – by a total of three points, the Chargers remained hopeful. They had the players. They had the schedule. They would recover. That’s what the team’s supporters kept promising.

    But the Chargers haven’t recovered.

    The Broncos have plenty of problems. Champ Bailey is out. Jay Cutler is suddenly erratic. The defense has been porous all season. The offense has grown  weak.

    But the Broncos are blessed to play in the AFC West,  home of hopelessly inept Raiders and Chiefs and the inexplicably underachieving Chargers.

  • Tale of love at Air Force football game

    Fri, October 24, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Here’s a story that combines a great fumble return with happy, romantic ending.


  • Beckham’s stalled soccer revolution

    Wed, October 22, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    When David Beckham left Spain’s La Liga to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy, there was a happy uproar among soccer fans in the United States. Beckham, still in the later days of his prime, was coming to America, where he would elevate soccer in general along with Major League Soccer.

    I believed in Beckham’s power. He is a superb player and he has the kind of star power that reaches beyond his sport. That’s rare, but that’s Beckham.

    I’m not saying Beckham has failed, but it’s obvious he hasn’t fully succeeded, either. The Galaxy failed to make the MLS playoffs this season, and the American soccer revolution hasn’t intensified the way I – and many others – believed it would.

    The MLS is stuck in a bad place. It offers a decent product, but it offers the product to an American sports culture that can’t stand the idea that a better product is offered elsewhere. The MLS never will join  the ranks of the world’s great soccer leagues. It’s just not going to happen. It’s stuck in a twilight zone between small-time and big-time. It’s medium time and that doesn’t sell in the United States.

    Beckham isn’t finished. The Galaxy can regroup in the off-season and Beckham could still lead North America’s premier team.

    But the hope that Beckham could lead the MLS into the heart of the average American sports fan has proven to be a false hope.

  • Raider Nation needs our aid

    Thu, October 16, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    In the good old days, when the Oakland Raiders resembled an actual NFL franchise, one of the great pleasures of living in Colorado was hating everything about the Raiders.  They were the perfect villains, mangy and  sneaky and repulsive. For decades, Broncos fans have happily hated the Raiders.

    Isn’t it time – isn’t it past time – to offer aid to the Raider Nation?

    The Raider Nation resembles Germany after World War II. It’s in ruins, a once-proud people completely embarrassed and devastated. After WWII, Americans helped the Germans back to their feet. We offered, often at great risk, aid to our former enemies.

    It’s time to try a football version.

    Broncos fans could organize an air drop of aid to the Raider Nation. We could send along a couple real playbooks – the Raiders offense obviously improvises every play – and maybe send a couple parachuting coaches into Oakland. I’d suggest sending Joe Collier, the former Broncos defensive coordinator. Joe led The Orange Crush, the 1977 Broncos defenders who rank among the best in NFL history. Joe, who  lives in suburban Denver, could bring instant comfort to the Raiders defenseless defense.

    And we could help with the overthrow of Al Davis. He once ranked as a great football rebel, a gambler who would take on anyone at anytime. He was strange, sure, but he was also brilliant. It’s beyond sad to see Davis shredding his own legacy. He is destroying the very team he built. It was hilarious to listen to Davis nitpick recently about the Broncos consecutive Super Bowl titles, saying an asterisk should be placed on the championships because Denver violated salary cap restrictions. Davis, once football’s ultimate cool guy, sounded like a bitter nerd.

    Face it. These are sad, sad times in Raider Nation. Before the opener this season, I stayed a few blocks from Oakland Coliseum.  (It will never be McAfee Coliseum in this blog.) There were hundreds of Raiders fans in our cluster of hotels. They were having a great time, drinking and yelling “Raiders” at the top of  their lungs and talking about  the glorious past before drinking some more.

    Everything was ripping along wonderfully until game time. Then the Broncos plastered the Raiders, beginning a season full of stompings.

    The next morning at our hotel breakfast bar, i watched a dozen Raiders fans pick at their waffles. They couldn’t believe what they had suffered through the night before.

    Their Raiders are, once again, pathetic.

    The Broncos need their arch-enemy to revive. It’s no fun to watch the Raiders flopping  around like a fish that’s about to die. Imagine if Batman awoke one morning and found the Joker had given up crime and was working behind the counter at In-N-Out Burger. Batman requires a thriving, thoroughly evil Joker. The Broncos need the Evil Empire of the West to return. Once, the Raiders inhabited the nightmares of Broncos fans everywhere.

    Now, the Raiders are the weakest, goofiest franchise in the NFL.

    And that takes all the fun out of  hating them. So let’s offer them our aid.

    It’s  obvious  they can’t help themselves.

  • More on Ernie Davis

    Wed, October 15, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Ernie Davis is a folk hero in Central New York. He’s remembered as the virtually perfect young man – kind, polite, loved by all – who died far too young.

    Davis, an All-American football player at Syracuse University, won the 1961 Heisman Trophy and seemed destined to become one of the NFL’s all-time greats, but he died in 1963 of leukemia. I wrote about him and his coach Ben Schwartzwalder in today’s column.  http://www.gazette.com/sports/davis_41885___article.html/schwartzwalder_syracuse.html

    Many years ago, I spoke briefly to Ernie’s mother, Marie. I had been told she was a shy woman who disliked being interviewed. This was true.

    We talked for only a few minutes, but her message was clear.

    She told me her son wasn’t a saint. She told me she would always remember a typical young man who cared for her and cared for his friends like any other normal young man. She was weary of hearing about how endlessly special he was.

    i understand what she means. My oldest sister, Ruth, died when I was a boy, and there’s been a tendency in my family to blur the reality of her life and create instead – like Ernie – a virtually perfect young person. It’s easy to forget that Ruth got mad,  didn’t bring her plate to the kitchen sink – a big-time family rule – and sometimes struggled with her grades. She was, in short, a normal child on the brink of becoming a young woman when she was taken from us.

    The sad fact is that it takes the loss of a mother, father, brother,  sister, aunt, uncle or friend to see just how special this someone really is. Ernie Davis was, by all accounts,  a great human being. So was my sister. But other great – and living – human beings surround all of us.

    I will remember what Marie told me. My son, she said, was just as special as everyone else.

  • Martinez’s near TD

    Tue, October 14, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    In Monday’s Gazette, photographer Mark Reis captured the moment when the Broncos Glenn Martinez nearly – nearly – scored on a punt return.

    One problem:

    Jaguars punter Adam Podlesh wrapped his hands around Martinez’s jersey. It wasn’t classic tackling technique, but it worked.

    “He grabbed my jersey and held on for dear life, man, and I couldn’t get away from him,” Martinez said, shaking his head. It’s always embarrassing to be taken down by a punter.

    Martinez would have been able to shake Podlesh by slapping away his hands, but he had the ball on the right side – the same side where Podlesh had seized his jersey.

    “My first thing was to protect the ball – I didn’t want to cause another fumble or another turnover,” Martinez said.

    Martinez returned the ball 28 yards to the Jags’ 37. The Broncos scored a TD four plays later.

    The Martinez story is a good one. Broncos fans are hurting after their team’s recent collapse, but they can find some comfort in Martinez’s comeback tale. He was cut from the team in late August and returned in late September.

    He’s making the best of his second chance, even if he couldn’t quite find a way to shake a pesky punter.

  • CU’s collapse

    Sun, October 12, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    What a change. On Sept. 18, the University of Colorado Buffaloes celebrated a victory over West Virginia. And they really celebrated. Thousands of students stormed the field and danced and hugged and shouted for 30 minutes. The Buffs were 3-0 and everyone wanted to party.

    But CU defensive star George Hypolite said it was too early to rejoice. Let’s wait, he said. Let’s see how the Buffs do against Florida State, Texas and Kansas.

    Good point, George.

    The Buffs have collapsed, losing the three games by a total of 107-49. Quarterback Cody Hawkins has been horrendous. The defense has been porous. The Buffs seemed ready to rise as a new national power.

    Now, they look mediocre.

    Coach Dan Hawkins faces a difficult decision. Cody Hawkins is his son and that never will change.

    Cody is also his quarterback and that should change.


  • CC’s statute of limitations?

    Thu, October 9, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Scott Owens doesn’t enjoy talking about last season’s season-ending loss to Michigan State.

    That’s understandable. It was only one of the worst losses in Colorado College’s long hockey history.

    When I mentioned the loss in a conversation with Owens on Monday, he grimaced and then smiled.

    “I know you’re going to beat this thing to death one more time, aren’t you?” Owens said. His sentence ended in a question mark, but it wasn’t really a question.

    “You’ll use any segue you can to get to that game.”

    Owens paused and then leaned close to my tape recorder.

    “That’s a joke, by the way.”

    I agree with Owens. It is time to stop concentrating on the loss to Michigan State and time to start talking about this season.

    CC’s Tigers look mighty. They should be even more powerful than last season’s squad, and that squad  won the WCHA.

    So let’s take a break from talking about a bad, bad night against Michigan State. We can return to the subject in the days before the 2009 tournament.

    For more on the Tigers, check out Kate Crandall’s CC blog:


  • Air Force-Navy aftermath

    Tue, October 7, 2008 by David Ramsey with no comments

    On Saturday, two Colorado Springs-area high school teams did battle. Team A earned 14 first downs. Team B earned 12 first downs. So Team A won the first-down battle.

    One other statistic:

    Team B won, 63-6.

    In the days since Navy beat Air Force, 33-27, I’ve heard from several distraught yet encouraged Falcons fans. There’s a common thread in the e-mail messages.

    Our Falcons gained more yards and earned more first downs.  Our Falcons outplayed the Midshipmen except for those two blocked punts. Just look at the stats, the messages read.

    The Navy-Air Force rivalry is one of the best in college football. For the past six seasons, you can be sure this rivalry will deliver great football.

    Yes, the Falcons have won the stats battle the past two seasons, but the only statistic that matters over the past six seasons is this one:

    Navy dominates the final score category.

    The Midshipmen have, for the last six seasons, been the more mature team,  the tougher team and the better team. They have set the standard in service-academy football.

    I also received several messages from Navy fans protesting my view that former coach Paul Johnson is a master propagandist. The Navy fans believe I belittle Johnson’s accomplishments when I point out he exaggerated – or fabricated – disrespect from Air Force players.

    One message suggested I turned Johnson into a football version of Karl Rove, the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s two election victories. This Navy fan believes I was demonizing Johnson.

    The Rove comparison is a good one. Rove and Johnson both have a clear view of the main objective of their jobs. That objective is to win. Both men decline to worry much about following etiquette. Both men did what they were hired to do.

    A great football coach uses every tool available to build a winner. Johnson was a master strategist and motivator. He transformed Navy’s football culture. He converted one of college football’s worst teams into a regional power.

    Did he use propaganda as one of his tools?

    Sure, he did.

    Is propaganda the main reason he won games?


    It was just an amusing – if sometimes  confusing - aspect of his reign.

    For more on Air Force football – and Saturday’s game against Navy – check out Jake Schaller’s blog.