- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A lot of ammunition is flying back and forth between the Navy and Air Force football teams — so much so that it’s tough to imagine these guys will some day be on the same team.

The two service academies battle tonight at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., in the first Commander in Chief’s trophy game of the season.

It will be the first time in seven years Air Force is not holding the prized trophy. Navy won it last season by beating the Falcons 28-25 before thumping Army 34-6.

Air Force players went on the offensive early in the week with comments in Colorado newspapers about how it felt to lose the trophy.

“It just makes me think of how much I hate Navy,” fullback Adam Cole told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “It’s almost like they are holding our stuff. [The trophy] doesn’t really belong to them.”

Some of that anger came after being told Navy (4-0) bought its players Commander in Chief rings, which didn’t actually happen, and after finding pictures of Navy fullback Kyle Eckel in their lockers. The pictures included the caption “Eckel for Heisman,” though the Navy sports information department has not promoted him as a candidate for the prestigious award.

“That’s cute,” Eckel said. “It’s just something the coaches do to motivate the players a little extra. We did it last year with [their quarterback] Chance Harridge with a couple of his quotes and pictures. It’s something that puts a spark in players before they practice. You come in from class and you’re all groggy. When you see the pictures, they get you going. I think they should have a picture of all [our offensive] linemen, too. The holes were open last year.”

Navy coach Paul Johnson was later asked about the Air Force players’ comments and whether it broke from the civility and respect typically shared among the three service academies.

“I think Army and Navy have a pretty good respect for each other,” he said, clearly leaving out Air Force.

The Commander in Chief trophy is on display in Bancroft Hall this season for the entire brigade of Midshipmen to admire.

At Air Force, the trophy case in the Falcons’ locker room sits empty, except for a photo of the Navy players with the trophy in Annapolis.

Air Force (2-2) has held the trophy for 16 of coach Fisher DeBerry’s first 20 seasons.

“It’s sort of like losing your pet dog,” DeBerry said. “You have him so long you start to take him for granted. You kick him around the house but he still comes back to you. I don’t know if we took [the trophy] for granted, but I’ve got to give credit to Navy. They kicked our butts last year.”

The comments from Navy were less caustic, with most players saying they don’t need to talk because they have the trophy.

“I just laugh at” the comments, Navy cornerback Vaughn Kelly said. “It’s almost like their world crashed on them once we won. Their whole world is upside down.”

DeBerry just tried to diffuse Johnson’s comment.

“I don’t have any response to that,” he said. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. I know I have a lot of respect for them. I always have in my 21 years here. I’m just worried about who can block this and that. I don’t have time for any of that. It’s a short week.”

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