I had a chance, this past Saturday, to experience one of the most unique days in my entire life, and one I'm going to remember for years to come. I'm sure I'm going to run on for far too long about the first part of the title of this post, but really, what point is there to belaboring the second part? Might as well focus on the good stuff.
As I mentioned in the Saturday non-Georgia-game open comment thread, my family and I called an audible once we got to Colorado, and decided to attempt to attend two college football games on Saturday.
I, Mrs. Vineyarddawg and a couple other members of my family had flown into Colorado on Wednesday night, and I was trying line up our itinerary at the last minute (as usual). I added a visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy to our list, since I'd been there before and knew it was a fantastic place to visit (and I still highly recommend it to anyone within driving distance of Colorado Springs).
While putting that plan to paper, however, I thought, "Hey, wait a minute... Air Force has a
FBS Division I-A football team. I wonder who they're playing this week." So I looked it up, and almost lost my breath for a moment when I saw it. The game on Saturday morning, with a 12:30 kickoff, and which was not yet a sellout?
This was, roughly, my reaction upon seeing this.
I've heard for many years that games between the service academies are renowned for their intense atmosphere, and I've also heard that the pregame pageantry is a must-see in such games. I am happy to report that both rumors are completely true.
For those unaccustomed to the geography of the Centennial State, Colorado Springs is about an hour and a half south of Boulder. This means that, although there's no way we could stay for the whole game, we could go early, see all of the pregame pageantry and tradition, watch a portion of the game, and still make it up to Boulder with plenty of time to catch the kickoff.
So, we arrived at the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy about 9:30 AM. By the time we parked (a positively divine procedure compared to finding a parking spot in Athens on gameday), a few Air Force fans were getting ready for their version of the "Dawg Walk." We stayed for that (the only disappointment on Colorado Springs leg of the day... there were maybe 100 fans gathered for the team's entrance), then entered the stadium, got some early lunch, and took our seats. When the teams came out to warm-up, I was impressed by the military precision (pun totally intended) of their pregame drills. One of Air Force's drills, by the way, is a set of synchronized pushups done by the entire team... on their knuckles.
After the two football teams warmed up on the field, there was a flyover by several WWII-era aircraft, including a trio of P-47 Thunderbolts, two T-6 aircraft, and a C-45.
After the first flyover, selected squadrons from the Air Force Cadet Wing and companies from the Brigade of Midshipmen marched in formation onto the field. And let me tell you... although it's technically just "boring marching," it was an incredibly impressive sight to me. Seeing all of these men and women who have decided to trade in binge drinking and blowing off exams for boot camp and 14+ hour days just makes me proud to be an American. Plus it was an awesome experience to hear a football field full of cadets do the Air Force cheer. (Protip: Unlike Army, at the USAFA they yell, "Go Air Force! Sink Navy!" I like it because it's more apropos than the generic "Beat Navy.")
Unfortunately, it was far too windy that day for the Wings of Blue parachute team to jump into the stadium with the game ball. (They still managed to get a ball somehow, though.) But that was more than made up for by the final flyover.
The F-15 flyover was one of the most awesome events I've ever experienced. Four F-15 Eagle Aggressors flew in a tight formation towards the stadium, and as they arrived directly overhead, each of them immediately went ballistic, executing a 90-degree vertical turn, showing us their afterburners, and shaking the everloving holy-God-somebody-hold-me out of the stadium as the cadets and fans went absolutely nuts beneath. IT. WAS. AWESOME.
This doesn't even come close to imparting the transcendent nature of the experience. It's apparently pretty unusual, though, since I searched for an hour or two and didn't see anything similar until I found this video of the actual flyover from Saturday, obviously taken by a cadet.
Well, by this time I was just standing in place dumbfounded until the stadium announcer reminded me that, hey dude, we just kicked off a football game here. As for the game itself, I can't say that the stadium was as loud as any SEC stadium I've ever visited before (save Vandy), but the passion and intensity of the Cadets, Middies, and the rest of the fans in attendance was almost beyond an SEC experience. They were yelling and screaming their heads off at all times... even the old USAFA alumni near us (classes of '65, '70, and '75, which had reunions that day) were going nuts. And when Air Force scored first near the end of the first quarter... ok, well, maybe the crowd did get louder than some SEC stadia at times.
We still wanted to make it to Boulder in time for the Georgia game, however, so we, sadly, had to leave the game at the end of the First Quarter. In retrospect, it was by far the best part of my day, and I wish that we'd stayed until the end. (Air Force ended up beating Navy for the first time in 8 years... I can only imagine how much butter would have been eaten if the crowd were Georgia fans.)
Most of you have seen the Georgia game, and everyone knows the results, so I'll limit my commentary to the local flavor in Boulder. For a program that has been so horrifyingly abysmal since 1995, their fans, as a whole, are incredibly arrogant and classless. In fact, it started with my first taste of the CU gameday experience. We've all heard the joke about giving the opposing fans directions away from the stadium, but as we were leaving our car and walking in, I met a Georgia fan at the edge of campus to whom that actually happened. (Thankfully, I brought along a campus map.)
We were relatively unmolested on our walk to the stadium, but once we sat down, we didn't stop hearing grief from the Buff fans around us until Georgia went up 24-14 in the 3rd Quarter. Tickets were in very high demand from Georgia fans for this game, and the cutoff for tickets in the Georgia section was somewhere around $30,000 of accumulated giving in your lifetime. Needless to say, I didn't get Colorado tickets from the Georgia athletics department. Many Georgia fans did the same thing I did, however, which was to purchase the "3-game National Championship package" of tickets from the Colorado athletics department, which included the Georgia game. (No single game tickets were sold for the Georgia game until about a week beforehand.)
So, in the section in which we were seated, there were about 3-4 rows of Georgia fans, surrounded by Colorado fans above and below. Every Georgia fan I saw was passionate, but considerate towards the CU fans, but I can not say the same in return. To recount every story of bad sportsmanship would take pages and pages, but I'll recount this one, of which I am personally proud.
We only had a few people (Georgia fans) sitting on the row directly in front of us, and then there was an empty row. On the row below that, however (3 rows in front of us), there were two fans that were over 6 feet tall, and were standing on top of the bleachers while watching the early part of the game (when no one else was doing so). They, apparently, were completely oblivious as to how rude they were being to the fans behind them, and were probably oblivious to most other things in life as well, because neither of them were wearing colors that belonged to either CU or UGA.
I bleacher-surfed down to their row, tapped the tallest of the two on the shoulder, and politely asked them to not stand on top of the bleachers, because those standing behind them could not see. The guy turned around slowly, stared at me, and said with exaggerated effect, "Excuse me? You... can't see over my head?" (It is at this point that I should disclose that I am a tall and generously-proportioned individual.)
I responded, again, politely, by saying that I could see, but my wife was short (which she is), and she couldn't see over them when they stood on top of the bleachers, but as long as they stood where they were supposed to, she could see fine. The guy just stared at me menacingly and turned back around. The next time a big play happened, he and his buddy stood on the bleachers to cheer (and didn't get down).
At this time, I decided to just let it ride, since sometimes a jerk is just going to be a jerk and you have to make a conscious decision not to feed the troll.
After Colorado scored first to take a 7-0 lead, however, the tall guy turned around (much more quickly this time), jumped up one row, folded his arms, "bowed up" and stood proudly in front of all the Georgia fans, then stared at me directly for about 5 seconds. My direct quote to him was, "Classy, man. Stay classy." He laughed, turned around, and went back to his seat. A couple of drives later, CU stopped Georgia for a 3-and-out, and he did it again, lingering longer to stare at me directly. (This time, I had no reaction other than to stare back at him.)
Now, I'm a generally calm, pacifistic guy by nature. My passion does sometimes get the better of me, however, and in that time and moment, I simply had to respond in some say. So, I bleacher-surfed back down to his row, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Hey, next time you decide to come to a game, you really should at least wear your team's colors." I then returned to my seat.
In response, the guy turned around where he was and just stared at me. After a few seconds it was clear that he was at a loss for something to say. So, I smiled at him, gave him a Willie Two-Thumbs salute, and said, "Go Buffs!" His face got red and he turned back around. A minute later, he and his buddy decided it was time to go down to the concession stand and get some nachos. When they returned, they sat about 5 seats further down.
I rarely engage jerks, but I have to admit that I felt a sense of satisfaction that I shut at least one of them up in this case. We got a lot more crap from a lot more fans, but the we and the Georgia fans around us weathered the abuse well, and no one that I saw responded in kind when Georgia was up 24-14 for about
ten seconds two minutes.
Overall, we had an incredible time in Colorado, and thoroughly enjoyed most of our activities while there. It really is true, however, that there is no feeling like the feeling you have when you're being taunted by the fans of a 1-3 team who is whipping your ass.
We should have stayed in Colorado Springs.