Chiefly In Command Again: Air Force Review

As the Navy football team caught its plane out of Colorado and flew back to Maryland to celebrate yet another epic victory in Ken Niumatalolo's first full season, some old admirals and military strategists had to be laughing heartily. The giddiness that has engulfed the Mids and their beaming backers is rapidly approaching off-the-charts levels, and any astute naval expert could tell you why.

No, the fun atmosphere surrounding this latest bunch of gridiron overachievers is not the simple result of Saturday's soaring win over an Air Force team that aimed high but fell short. It's so much more than that. In the world of service academy football, winning a game in a manner befitting a military outfit brings extra-wide grins to the uniformed men and women who cheer on the boys of Autumn.

Yes, the act of storming into Colorado Springs--again--and snatching control of the Commander-in-Chief Trophy race--again--never gets old for the lads who strap on the shoulder pads for Navy. Yet another road win over Air Force--which has these awesome Annapolis athletes in position to hoard still more academy football hardware--is the pigskin prize most dear to the hearts of Midshipmen around the world. For Coach Niumatalolo to continue what Paul Johnson started in the realm of the CIC series only adds to the luster of a program and the surging fortunes of its Polynesian-born sideline general.

But as tall as those realities do indeed stand--and they feel a million miles high in light of what Navy football is continuing to accomplish in this decorated decade--they pale in comparison to the delicious subtext of Saturday's feat against the Falcons. Why was this particular Colorado conquest so ridiculously satisfying, so thoroughly--and almost unfairly--enjoyable?

It's simple: This Annapolis football team, in a display that was as metaphorically appropriate as it was significant on the scoreboard, staged a textbook naval blockade to defeat its band of military brothers from the Air Force Academy.

How classic.

How riotously, and wickedly, devious.

How utterly brilliant.

That's why old admirals and young military students alike have to be smiling and chuckling like naughty schoolboys after this particular exhibition of naval superiority that has the Men of Ken chiefly in command of the race for military football's treasured trophy.

The principle of a blockade is, of course, to choke off an opposing force by preventing it from escaping a port or harbor. Saturday afternoon, the Air Force found itself pinned to the ground, unable to gain liftoff on the scoreboard--or, for that matter, in the kicking game--because Navy wouldn't allow the Falcons to take flight. Two blocked punts powered this latest pigskin party for the Men of Ken, who used the aid of their bold blockade to steal a 33-27 win in the Rocky Mountain region.

This is just the lastest masterstroke from a team that has winning DNA permanently written into its very bones and marrow. For a program that's been big on kick returns but not necessarily causing mistakes from an opponent, this Naval blockade--applied as the result of diligent film study--made all the difference on a day when Air Force mistakes told the tale more than anything else.

On the road in this high-pressure situation, Navy needed a strong start to wipe away the jitters, plus a convincing conclusion to seal the deal. And while Jarod Bryant was solid in his continued stewardship of the Midshipmen's offense, the simple fact was that the Commander-In-Chief Trophy is likely to stay in Navy hands for another year because the sons of Annapolis exploited a weakness in the Falcons' punt protection scheme.

What emerges from this particular win--achieved in a most improbable fashion--is the growing sense that the 2007 and 2008 Navy teams, despite being led by different coaches, are cut from the same cloth. Both squads battle beyond belief, finding a distinctly unique way to prevail on most of their Saturday showdowns. Last season, the "Milestone Midshipmen" of Coach Johnson caused scoreboard circuits to overload in wins at Pittsburgh, North Texas, and Notre Dame. This year, the Men of Ken are battening down the hatches on defense while pulling some special teams magic out of the hat. But while the routes to victory are different, the end results are appearing just the same. Winning is coursing through this team's veins, and the fun feeling is getting to be so contagious that these young Navy men are now pulling pigskin pranks such as a masterful blockade against a military opponent.

It's all too much... well, not quite: You can't really ever get too much of a good thing, especially when one considers the deep, dark ditch in which Navy football found itself back in 2001, at the beginning of this calendar decade.

Today, athletic director Chet Gladchuk is basking in the glow of the realization that his instincts--manifested in his selection of Paul Johnson's replacement--have been proven accurate and true. Once again, the world of academy football belongs to Navy. Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force... except a naval blockade of the first order.

Well done, sailors. Well done. Pittsburgh better be on guard for the newest piece of military strategy to be thrown in its direction. Top Stories