It’s been said a strong Army football team is good for the country’s psyche. That may not be as true in the 21st century with the end of the draft two generations ago and 0.5 percent of Americans serving in the armed forces.
The belief probably started with the World War II years. Army won two straight national titles in 1944 and 1945. Doc Blanchard, Mr. Inside, and Glenn Davis, Mr. Outside, owned the Heisman Trophy back-to-back in 1945 and 1946.
The belief was reinforced by the Vietnam quagmire when Army football, along with Navy and to a lesser extent Air Force, went into decline along with the morale of a nation.
However, on the 15th anniversary weekend of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Black Knights did their part to help the country honor the moment. Army defeated Rice 31-14 Saturday to start 2-0 for the first time since 1996, in addition to gaining back-to-back victories for the first time since 2010.
By the end of the weekend we were reminded that tragedy can strike anyone and anytime. You don’t have to sign up to serve your country.
Army starting cornerback Brandon Jackson was killed Sunday night in a single-car crash in Croton, N.Y. He started nine games as a freshman last year. He made his second start of the 2016 season against Rice, contributing two solo tackles and an assist.
“Brandon is a young man that is deeply cared for at West Point,” said Army head coach Jeff Monken Tuesday during his weekly media session.
“He is beloved by his teammates. He is a teammate and brother to these guys and he will be sorely missed. We are so saddened for his family and loved ones at home along with all of his friends.”
Monken added it was important for the team to be together for Monday’s practice. At West Point, future officers learn they must carry on. The Black Knights prepared for a road game Saturday night against UTEP (1-1) at the Sun Bowl.
“We wanted to do it in a way that Brandon would be proud,” he said. “I think our guys certainly handled the first opportunity to get back and workout and I am sure that will continue.”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL FAME AWAITS
Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s leap to his feet from the sideline to celebrate Saturday’s win over Connecticut was — on a strictly aesthetic level — unflatteringly reminiscent of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda celebrating Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
No matter. The former Hawaii quarterback is fit enough to be on a path to induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. After an 11-2 season that finished with a No. 18 national ranking, Niumatalolo has his team off to a 2-0 start.
Vietnam’s impact on service academy football is reflected among coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Army’s last head coach enshrined was Red Blaik in 1964 for his career at West Point from 1941-’58.
Navy’s Wayne Hardin, who coached Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino (1960) and Roger Staubach (1963), was enshrined in 2013. He coached at Navy from 1959 to 1964 and later at Temple (1970-’82).
Navy’s George Welsh was enshrined in 2004, but his induction had more to do with his success at Virginia (1982-2000) than Navy (1973-’81).
Air Force’s Fisher DeBerry led the resurgence of the service academy following the Vietnam stigma attached to military service. He led the Falcons for over two decades (1984-2006). He was enshrined in 2011.
Niumatalolo, who turned down BYU to return to Navy for his ninth year, would have more resources available at BYU in terms of gaining national rankings, but he will leave a greater legacy at Navy.
That’s how you get voted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
AIR FORCE TAKING WING
Air Force Coach Troy Calhoun has been ahead of Army and Navy as far as expanding his offense beyond the basic triple-option. The former Air Force quarterback was an NFL offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans (2006).
This year watch for Calhoun to allow his pilot under center to push the envelope. Senior quarterback Nate Romine is considered Air Force’s best passing quarterback since Air Force offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen, who was the Mountain West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2000.
Romine has a big target in senior wide receiver Jalen Robinette, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior. Air Force started slowly in last week’s 48-14 win over Georgia State until the Romine-Robinette connection sparked the rout. Romine hit his tall pass catcher with a 15-yarder and a 32-yarder on back-to-back plays to set up a touchdown.
Air Force has a bye this week, but conference play begins Sept. 24 at Utah State followed by facing Navy Oct. 1 at home.
Air Force hasn’t been tested by teams loading the box with wins over Abilene Christian and Georgia State, but that is about to change.
Air Force appears ready.
Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055