Rooney: AFA Folsom visit a chance to script more honorable series lore

Series renewed after 45-year hiatus

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker and the Buffs will slow down Air Force’s option attack on Saturday.
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Consider this an open letter to Colorado Buffaloes fans.

Win or lose, give the cadets from Air Force an afternoon to remember Saturday. And remember in a good way, not in the manner that might forever haunt young men who pledged their devotion to our country.

On Saturday, two schools separated by 75 miles as the fighter jets fly will reconvene on the football field for the first time in 45 years. It has been 46 years since the Front Range programs last met in Boulder. There’s a reason for that.

Quite simply, Boulder wasn’t nice to the Cadets during the matchups in the 1960s and 70s set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. Buffs fans should do their best to make amends this weekend.

One week after a thrilling scene unfolded at Folsom Field, with the Buffs rallying for a 34-31 overtime win against Nebraska that touched off a jubilant on-field celebration for players and fans alike, the visit by Air Force is perhaps a good moment to take a deep breath and remember, at the end of the day, it’s still just a game.

The folks lining up across from the Buffs Saturday morning no doubt will pour every ounce of spirit and energy they own into each and every play. Soon, though, most will move on to bigger, more important duties. Some of those duties will involve putting their lives on the line for the red, white and blue. For our country. In another era, anti-war protestors didn’t differentiate their ire between the policy-makers and the foot soldiers — in this case, the cadets — tasked with carrying out those policies. It led to myriad ugly incidents at the games, around campus, and around town.

Nothing that transpires this weekend will erase the ugliness that forced the end of a series being renewed for the first time in 45 years. But Buffs fans have it in their power to write a new chapter.

If you see a cadet around campus or the stadium, shake his or her hand. Tell them thank you. Wish them safety and good fortune in whatever endeavors come next in service to our country. When the game is over, regardless of the score, give those Falcons a round of applause. It’s the very least anyone can do.

Now, on to the football.

It will be interesting to see how the Mel Tucker-led Buffs respond after last week’s emotional comeback. Air Force plays tough against anyone and everyone, and the Falcons run their option attack with such speed and efficiency it can cause headaches for any defense. It was telling when Tucker admitted during the preseason his Buffs were spending a portion of each practice prepping for AFA’s option — a rare departure for the typical coach speak of we’re-not-looking-past-our-next-foe.

This matchup is where the mental toughness Tucker has attempted to infuse into the CU program could come to the forefront. Certainly it was on display during the comeback against the Cornhuskers, but it also was during last year’s stirring win at Nebraska. A year ago the Buffs weren’t tasked with immediately repeating that performance against a challenging foe — CU returned home and hardly needed to break a sweat in dismantling FCS-level New Hampshire 45-14. And the seven-game losing streak soon to follow that spelled the end of the Mike MacIntyre coaching tenure showcased the absolute antithesis of mental toughness.

Backing the Nebraska win with another sharp performance would set the Buffs up well for the start of Pac-12 Conference play, as CU begins the league slate with the two most favorable matchups on its Pac-12 schedule in Arizona State and Arizona.

But first the Buffs must repel the Air Force assault. With respect all around.