The drama at Falcon Stadium on Saturday won’t be about hardware, because regardless of whether Air Force beats Army, the trophy case in Cadet Field House will sit empty for at least another year. And it won’t be about Air Force’s other goals, either, because even a victory can’t rescue the lost hopes of a winning record and a bowl game. But there’s plenty of intrigue in this weekend’s 39th Army-Air Force meeting, and it has everything to do with history, reversals of fortune and maybe even a hint of schadenfreude, the German word for taking pleasure in the misfortune of rivals. Should Air Force lose to Army (1-6) on Saturday, it could represent a watershed moment in the service academy rivalries and prompt debate about how far Air Force’s program has fallen from its lofty perch. Air Force knows that kind of talk makes its brethren at Army and Navy practically giddy since the Falcons have dominated the Commander-in-Chief’s series during the 22-year reign of coach Fisher DeBerry and haven’t exactly been humble about it. The last time Air Force lost to Army and Navy in the same season was 1996, but that was far from a low point. That season, Army and Navy went to bowl games, and Air Force came back from the Navy loss to beat nationally ranked Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., the following week. The outlook isn’t so rosy this year. Air Force, at 3-6, is guaranteed a second consecutive losing season for the first time under DeBerry. And one of the defining moments came Oct. 8 at Navy, where Air Force blew a 10-point lead and lost 27-24 on a last-second field goal. With three straight victories against Air Force, Navy has turned the tide in the Commander-in-Chief’s series, which DeBerry’s teams dominated over his first 19 seasons with a 32-6 record. Losing the edge over Navy has been tough for Air Force’s seniors to swallow, but the burden could get heavier if Army does the same thing Saturday. “You don’t want to read too much into it, but it opened the gate the last few years when they (Navy) beat us the first time,” senior offensive tackle Ross Weaver said. “I feel like we’ve been a better football team than Navy has, but we haven’t been a consistent team.” While the Army-Navy game is the showcase of service academy football, Air Force had been able to hold the trophy over both programs’ heads until Navy’s victory in 2003. That gave the Falcons a huge edge in recruiting because the academies go head-to-head on many of the same players. Asked after this year’s Navy game if he felt a third straight loss would hurt Air Force in recruiting, DeBerry responded: “What would you think? I’d say probably so. I mean, you know, we won it eight straight years, and we said (to recruits), ‘Hey, look at the results. We’re winning.’” The most well-known recent example is Air Force quarterback Shaun Carney, who was recruited heavily by Navy coach Paul Johnson but chose the Falcons in large measure because of their previous dominance. “It’s definitely a big deal for recruiting every year. We get into a lot of battles there,” senior Falcons back Denny Poland said. “A lot of kids are weighing options between the three service academies. These games are really important in that sense.” Though Army is 3-15 since former NFL coach Bobby Ross came out of retirement to take over the program, there’s a sense that he’s slowly building momentum in West Point. Army has been competitive with some good teams this season — everybody on its schedule except Air Force is .500 or better — and its defense has improved from hapless a year ago to 27th nationally. Coming off a 20-0 victory against Akron two weeks ago, it wouldn’t be a tremendous upset if Army could win at Falcon Stadium for the first time since 1977. If Army beats Air Force, it will have a chance to take the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from Navy on Dec. 3 in Philadelphia. “It would be very nice,” Ross said. “It was a priority of mine when I started here, and I won’t back down from that. It’s the only association that we have to a league right now. It’s a high priority, and it’s something that we talk about a lot.” Though the Army-Navy football rivalry is heated, nothing brings the two together more than their mutual disdain for Air Force. Weaver said he thinks fans of both academies have taken great joy in watching the Falcons struggle the past two seasons. Nothing would give him more pleasure than ending his career denying Army fans that right. “Because we’ve been so dominant in the past, I think they’re just happy to see that in their minds it’s leveling out,” Weaver said. “I don’t think people should look at it and say we’ve had two losing seasons in a row and maybe they’re on the decline. We’ve been very good, and we’ve been consistent. We’ve fallen off a little bit, but we’ll get that back on track.” Weaver selected to play in Hula Bowl Weaver has been selected to play in the Hula Bowl all-star game Jan. 21, 2006 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Weaver is the 33rd Falcon to be selected for the Hula Bowl since 1964. He is the seventh offensive lineman selected and first since Ben Miller in 2001. Weaver is third on the team in knockdown blocks and has helped Air Force to a top 10 national ranking in rushing with a 244.9 per-game average. A native of Parker, Weaver is a three-year letterman and two-year starter. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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