The Armed Forces Bowl, or more appropriately the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, is another of the newer bowls created in college football with its first kickoff dating back to 2003. Originally called the Fort Worth Bowl, the game is traditionally played at Amon Carter Stadium in Cowtown, home of the fearsome and undefeated TCU Horned Frogs. While Amon Carter undergoes a 105 Million dollar facelift, the game is being hosted at Ford Stadium in Dallas for the next two seasons. Given a bowl game five minutes up the road, it made for a convenient post season opportunity to continue the Pigskin Pursuit. Joining me on the day would be two DFW friends and former West Point cadets Bryce and Geoff. I donned my darkest black polo and we skipped up to the SMU campus to check out the morning tailgate action before an 11AM kickoff.
Ford Stadium is a pleasant little horseshoe shaped stadium occupying the southern edge of the pristine SMU (Southern Methodist) campus. With a stated capacity of only 32,000 it’s hardly larger than some of the behemoth high school venues in the state, though Ford is easily approachable and conveniently located five minutes from downtown Dallas. Unlike the new Jerry Jones spaceship in Arlington, free neighborhood parking abounds in the mansion lined side streets of Highland Park, and I tucked the Jetta easily into an empty street on an early Thursday morning. Highland Park, for those of you unfamiliar with Dallas, is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country with a per capita income of nearly $100,000.
After parking, Bryce, Geoff and I hoofed it over to the “Boulevard” tailgating area to meet up with some of their West Point cohorts hosting a tailgate. In addition to the glut of military acronyms I would learn on the day, this proved to be a well appointed and welcoming setup. Their friend Kipper had secured prime real estate on the Boulevard, which is an exquisitely manicured stretch of grass shaded by stretching post oaks in the center of the SMU campus. Kipper was no stranger to a smoker, evidenced by the dual pit trailer he towed behind his pickup and gentle smoke enticingly wafting into the damp morning air. The mouth watering menu included chicken thighs, country style pork ribs, stuffed jalapenos (my tongue would only allow for one) and pulled pork sandwiches. All of the meats were expertly prepared and testimony to Kippers prowess as a skilled tailgater.
Walking into the stadium, I was surprised at the sheer number of West Point alums in the crowd. For a school that typically only graduates roughly 1000 students per year, black and gold flooded the bleachers, and weighty USMA class rings flashed in our section, reflecting sporadic streams of sun (The USMA started the practice of university class rings in 1835). Walking through the concourse with Bryce and Geoff was akin a West Point class reunion, as familiar faces swarmed the aisles, testament to the solidarity that exists among former cadets.
On the field for the day the Black Knights of Army were facing off against the Mustangs of SMU, though the home field advantage for the Ponies was mitigated by this strong turnout of Army supporters. The excitement for the Knights started quickly, as 1:30 seconds into the contest they jarred the ball loose from SMU Quarterback Kyle Padron, and ran the recovery back for a 55 yard touchdown. The excitement would continue for Army in the first quarter, as the cadets later marched 80 yards down the field on another touchdown drive. Adding on a second quarter field goal would put the USMA up 16-0 at halftime, amidst a stunned SMU squad. The second half was all about Army desperately clinging onto a lead, fending off the gun slinging June Jones offense and trying to run out the clock. After a tense missed 47 yard field goal by SMU late in the fourth quarter, a kick which would have given them the lead, the entire East side of the stadium let out a collective gasp of relief. After a few clock killing first downs, Army had secured their victory despite not scoring in the entire second half, and held on for a dramatic 16-14 victory.
While it hardly garnered a mention on SportsCenter, this marked the first bowl win for Army in 25 years, their last coming in the Peach Bowl in 1985. This was truly a remarkable win for a program that has seen only a handful of post season games the last few decades. People are quick to forget that Army used to be the national powerhouse in football. Though they will never return to their former pedestal, the pride and heritage found in USMA football is still roaring amongst their distinguished alumni. I was particularly proud to have experienced it with Bryce and Geoff, both class of 1999.
Be on the lookout for a potential trip to West Point for the Pigskin Pursuit next year….
Thanks again to Kipper for hosting such a phenomenal tailgate, it was certainly some of the best food I’ve had all year.
Special thanks to Bryce and Geoff for letting me tag along, and witness Army victory!
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