2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • AFA football: Calhoun almost used Hall as Carney’s replacement in 2007 bowl

    Thu, July 29, 2010 by David Ramsey with 6 comments

    Shaun Carney was done. He had suffered a severe knee injury aganst Cal in the third quarter of the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl.

    Coach Troy Calhoun was trying to decide what to do next when he felt a tug on his shoulder.

    It was Chad Hall, his star running back. Hall rushed for 1,478 yards in his spectacular senior season.

    “You know coach,” Hall said, “I can play quarterback.”

    It almost happened.

    Hall had not played quarterback since he starred at the position in high school, but he had a thorough knowledge of AFA’s option offense.

    “I did think about it,” Calhoun said. “I just thought that might be a little much,  taking a center-quarterback exchange when he hadn’t worked on it in practice. He would be a heck of a quarterback.

    “I tell you what, after he said it, what absolutely went through my mind. ‘If I knew Carney would have gotten hurt, we would have practiced this for awhile. We would have had Chad ready.’ ”

    Calhoun instead turned to backup quarterback Shea Smith,  who served as a quality relief pitcher, but the Falcons, who had led 21-0, ended up losing, 42-36.

    On the sideline, Calhoun kept thinking about Tom Matte, the Baltimore Colts versatile halfback. Late in the 1965 season, the Colts lost quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo to injury, forcing coach Don Shula to turn to Matte.

    Matte, playing with a list of plays taped to his wrist, led the Colts to a 20-17 win over the Rams and almost  led the Colts to a playoff upset over the mighty Packers.

    “All I could think about on the sideline was Tom Matte,” Calhoun said. “If we had played the next week, we would have worked Chad a little bit at quarterback.”

    But there was no next week. The game ended Carney’s and Hall’s AFA careers.

    As for Hall, he has no doubt what would have happened if he had persuaded Calhoun to let him play quarterback.

    “I was ready to roll, you know,” Hall said. “Playing quarterback is what I got recruited to do and that’s what I always wanted to do.

    “What would have happened? It would have been an Air Force comeback, a bowl win. I definitely could have gotten the job done. … It was my last game, and I would have  done anything to get that W.”

    Here’s a look at Shea Smith’s performance in the Cal game. Smith was the quarterback who tried to rescue AFA.


  • Farewell to Jack Tatum, one of the dirtiest football players of all time

    Wed, July 28, 2010 by David Ramsey with 1 comment

    Just reading a story on Fox Sports web site with this headline:

    “Jack Tatum miscast as a football villain.”

    Ah, no.

    Jack Tatum would be any casting director’s perfect choice as a football villain.

    Tatum died Tuesday after a long struggle with diabetes. He leaves behind a wife and three children. By all accounts, he was a quiet, dignified family man off the field.

    On the field is a different story. While playing for the Oakland Raiders from 1971-79, Tatum played a version of the game that verged on barbarism.

    Yes, he made dozens of clean hits.

    He also was the master of the slightly late hit and the extremely late hit. He wanted, he said over and over, to intimidate the opponent, and he did not worry about severely stretching the ethics of the game to do his intimidating.

    Jack Tatum didn’t intend to leave Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed. That’s what what happend after Tatum hit a defenseless Stingley as a pass sailed over his head in an exhibition game at Oakland Coliseum on a day that will  live in football infamy, Aug. 12, 1978.

    He didn’t intend to send Stingley to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

    But he did intend to create football mayhem. He spent his career delivering vicious, often gratuitous  hits on the helpless.

    The Stingley tragedy was the logical conclusion of Tatum’s career, and he sealed his fate as football’s ultimate villain when he wrote three books that proclaimed he was the “assassin.” These were all written while Stingley resided in a wheel chair. It was almost as if, columnist Dave Anderson wrote, John Wilkes Booth had returned from the dead to brag about shooting Abraham Lincoln.

    Tatum, amazingly, sought to make a buck off Stingley’s pain, and he cannot – he should not – ever be forgiven for his shameless greed.

    I’ve read that Tatum “revealed” in his books that he sought to injure opposing pass receivers and running backs. “Revealed” isn’t the right word.

    He was proud of his evil intentions. He believed that’s the way the game should be played. Tatum took all the grace out of the game and stripped it down to it purest, most revolting form.

    “I’m not going to beg forgiveness,” Tatum said of the Stingley hit. “…That was football.”

    His version of football, that is.

    Jack Tatum was the walking, big-hitting, wildly effective personification of everything wicked and wrong about football.

    Here’s a look at a few of Tatum’s greatest hits:


    Here’s a view, from Fox Sports, of Tatum that’s vastly different than my view:


    And here’s a well written, clear-eyed view of Tatum and his career:


  • An interesting, long-ago look at how close Colorado came to losing the Broncos

    Tue, July 27, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    From Sports Illustrated, 1965. At one time, Colorado fans might have been the worst – the least supportive, the least likely to purchase tickets – in pro football.


  • AFA football: Hennings, a modest type, heaps praise on teammate

    Sat, July 24, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    In Sunday’s Gazette, I write about Chad Hennings, close to the unanimous pick as Air Force’s all-time greatest football player.

    (Here’s the column: http://www.gazette.com/sports/iowa-102013-football-player.html )

    Hennings collected 24 sacks as a senior in 1987 and was later named the Western Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Decade.

    But he makes sure to say he didn’t collect those sacks or those honors on his own. He points to John Steed, an undersized noseguard. Steed created so much havoc that he opened lanes for Hennings to attack opposing quarterbacks.

    “He was a bowling ball,” Hennings said of the 6-foot-1 (at best), 228-pound Steed. “He would not stop. He was a phenomenal technician and he had great balance and he just would not quit. He was not a great athlete, but he played well within the system and he never gave up, kind of like a pit bull.”

    AFA coach Troy Calhoun was Hennings’ and Steed’s teammate on the 1987 team.

    “Steed was incredibly quick and really, really hard to block,” Calhoun said.

    Fisher DeBerry, who coached the 1987 Falcons, laughed when asked about Steed.

    “He made Chad an All American,” DeBerry said.

    Fisher writes about Hennings and Steed in his new book, which was co-written by former Gazette writer Mike Burrows.

    For more info about the book:


  • Rockies: Tulowitzki talks about LeBron’s move to Miami

    Fri, July 23, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Troy Tulowitzki is 25 and has played in one World Series.

    LeBron James is 25 and has played in one NBA Finals.

    I asked Tulowitzki about his views of The King’s move from Cleveland to Miami.

    “If they win some world championships, then he made the right decision, but I’m always faithful to my hometown, and I think he should have stayed in Cleveland,” Tulowitzki said Wednesday from the Sky Sox dugout.

    “At the same time, hey, he has goals that he wants, and that involves NBA championships.”

  • AFA basketball: What are reasonable expectations for this program?

    Wed, July 21, 2010 by David Ramsey with 12 comments

    I wrote last week about a Mountain West coach who sees little hope for Air Force’s program because the Falcons can’t bring in international players and basically can’t use transfers.

    Then I wrote about the 2003-2004 AFA team that dominated the MWC and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where it placed a severe scare in the hearts of North Carolina.

    The 2003-2004 team began a happy run for the Falcons, who finished 51-25 in the MWC from 2003-2008.

    But was that streak a never-to-be-repeated feat?

    Took a look today at the 16 seasons that surround the 2003-2008 run. This includes the final 11 seasons of the Reggie Minton era, the first three seasons of the Joe Scott era and the last two seasons of the Jeff Reynolds era.

    In those 16 seasons, the Falcons finished 40-206 in conference play. That’s an average of 2.5 wins and 12.9 losses per season.

    That’s discouraging.

    What are realistic expectations for this program that can’t use the crutch of transfers?

    Let me know. I’d like to hear your specific response. How many Mountain West victories should the Falcons fly to each season?

  • Weird Al Davis offers tribute to Steinbrenner that’s really a tribute to … Weird Al

    Mon, July 19, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Despite everything, I have a little bit of a soft spot for Raiders bizarro owner Al Davis.

    I’ve long appreciated his fashion sense. He’s almost as classy a dresser as the latter-day Elvis, and Weird Al has at times strutted around with those same outlandish sideburns that killed Elvis.

    My appreciation for Weird Al was shaken by his tribute to George Steinbrenner that was really a tribute to …. Weird Al.

    First off, Weird Al called Steinbrenner “a warrior.”

    Ah, no. That’s not quite right.

    Steinbrenner signed checks. He didn’t do any battling on any field. He was an owner, which is a vastly different creature than a warrior. Obviously Weird Al sees himself – falsely – as a warrior, a glamorous tough guy. Really, he’s a no-glam, nerdy check writer.

    Then Weird Al proclaimed the greatness of Steinbrenner.

    Well, sort of.

    “George was right there with me at No.  1 – bright, aggressive and, most of all, not afraid.”

    At one point, Weird Al could be considered near the top of the list of all-time NFL owners.

    But not now.  Weird Al has led his Oakland Raiders to oblivion. The Raiders are the worst franchise in the NFL. The Raiders play in the worst stadium in the NFL. Weird Al has taken the good citizens of Oakland for every dollar he could grab, and all they get in return is a pathetic joke of a team. He’s the worst owner in sport.

    Nice to see Weird Al still sees himself as No. 1.

    Even if he’s the only person on earth who sees himself there.

    Here’s an idea I floated a couple years ago to aid Weird Al and his fading Raider Nation:


  • Egan, former AFA and Cavs coach, returns to the Springs to attempt retirement

    Fri, July 16, 2010 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Hank Egan, who turns 73 in August, is retired.


    The former Air Force basketball coach (1971-84) has returned to Colorado Springs to again attempt what, for him, has been a difficult task.

    He’s going to try to retire.

    He tried, and failed, during the 2004-2005 season to say goodbye to basketball. His restlessness led him to a five-season tour of the NBA as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Yes, he enjoyed a courtside seat to the LeBron James show.

    No, he did not watch last week’s “Decision,”

    Egan made a wise decision.

    LeBron’s disastrous infomercial left millions of Americans with a severe case of boredom.

    Why did Egan miss the show?

    “Because I don’t care,” Egan said. “He’s gone. … He had every right to do what he did.”

    That, by the way, is all Egan will say about James.

    Egan is close friends with former Cavs coach Mike Brown, who won 272 games in five seasons, including 127 in the past two seasons.

    Brown was rewarded for all those wins by being fired.

    “He did a heck of a job,” Egan said. “I think he deserved better. Based on his performance with the team the past five years, he deserves better, but we all know that’s not what always drives people being hired and fired in the NBA.”

    Now, Egan faces a life far removed from his days in the NBA. He won’t be flying around the country, won’t be watching video for endless hours, won’t be waking up in a different hotel several times each week.

    He’ll be at his home near Garden of the Gods. He plans to play golf, spend time with his family and friends and relax.

    “I’m going to make it work this time,” Egan said.

    Here’s a column on Egan from good days with the Cavs:


  • AFA basketball: Falcons can’t build with transfers; could that be a blessing?

    Wed, July 14, 2010 by David Ramsey with 8 comments

    Yesterday, we listened to the words of a Mountain West coach who believes Air Force’s basketball team competes under a severe disadvantage.

    In the MWC – headquarters of transfers/malcontents – the Falcons have virtually no chance to use transfers. This leaves AFA in a big hole, the coach said.

    There’s a big hole in his argument:

    The 2003-2004 Air Force Falcons – MWC regular-season champs, competitors in the NCAA Tournament, one of the best MWC teams of that decade – had no transfers or international players or redshirts.

    There’s something to be said for building a college basketball team the old-fashioned way, and the 2003-2004 team displays the wisdom of  not taking the transfer/malcontent route.

    If you build  a team beginning with freshmen, there’s more stability. That’s obvious. A freshman can remain four seasons. A JUCO transfer has two seasons. A transfer from another four-year program usually has three seasons, at most.

    The no-transfer restriction allowed – or maybe forced – Joe Scott and Chris Mooney to take the slow approach to constructing a team. The 2003-2004 Falcons had suffered, losing 33 of 42 conference games, but they also had grown together.  They were weary of losing. They had a mission.

    Can it happen again? Can the Falcons again climb out of the conference cellar and contend for the MWC crown. From 2003-2007, Air Force was an MWC power.

    And they were powerful without the addition of a single transfer.

  • AFA hoops: Another MWC coach picks Falcons last, but offers an explanation

    Tue, July 13, 2010 by David Ramsey with 8 comments

    Five for five.

    Talked with another MWC head coach and he – like the other four coaches I’ve talked with - picked Air Force to finish last in the Mountain West in the 2010-2011 season. The Falcons have finished last the past two seasons, losing 31 of 32 regular-season games.

    This coach, like the others, did not hesitate at all before picking the Falcons to fly to a three-peat.

    But this coach said Air Force fans should not be surprised.

    The Falcons coaching staff, the coach said, work under crippling recruiting restrictions.

    “This is a transfer-impact league,” the coach said, referring to the MWC’s out-of-control reliance of transfers from junior colleges and transfers/malcontents from other four-year institutions. “Air Force can only go the high school route, and they’re the only team in the league that can only go the high school route.

    “So there’s no transfers. And they can’t take international players. Not with my tax dollars.”

    Tomorrow: The hole in this coach’s no-transfer argument.