Midnite Madness at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

By Tom Burke for www.armedforcesbowl.com

The rising sun in Fort Worth on Tuesday morning, December 29, bared her for all to see. 

TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium.

Adorned not in her usual glistening Horned Frog Purple, but awash in America's colors. 

Red, white and blue! From end zone to end zone, and from sea to shining sea.

The Grand Dame of Cowtown perhaps had never looked more beautiful. Certainly, never more patriotic or inspiring than on this glorious day of the 2015 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, with the Air Force Falcons taking on the California Golden Bears.

It was more than enough to make a longtime TCU Horned Frog fan and stadium visitor blush with pride.

But the best was yet to come.

Fort Worth and the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl kicked off Bowl Mania Week on Monday, the 28th, with a perfectly staged and scripted press conference that was flawlessly executed by two classy head coaches, California's Sonny Dykes, who was accompanied by two of his players, Jared Goff and Hardy Nickerson, and Air Force's Troy Calhoun, who was accompanied by two of his players, Karson Roberts and Alex Hansen. As their team's quarterbacks, Goff and Roberts would be instrumental in their respective team's performance on the gridiron on Tuesday. But at Monday's press conference, the spotlight was on the Armed Forces Bowl trophy.

This is no ordinary trophy. It is forged from combat-tested metal and steel from all five branches of the United States Armed Forces, and from material used to produce the U. S. Navy's recently commissioned USS Fort Worth, a Freedom-class littoral combat ship that is the first to be named after the city of Fort Worth. In the months leading up to the press conference, the trophy had traveled over 13,000 miles, to be on display at Lockheed Martin facilities across the country. That type of notoriety usually is reserved for the NFL's Lombardi Trophy, hockey's Stanley Cup or Major League Baseball's Commissioner's Trophy!

Lockheed Martin is a global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company that has a major presence in Fort Worth and the surrounding area. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics division is based in Fort Worth. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control division is based in nearby Grand Prairie. About 40 percent of the company's nearly 130,000 employees worldwide are veterans. The corporate slogan is, "We never forget who we're working for."

The bowl's kickoff luncheon on Monday featured more pomp and circumstance, players from both teams, military, city and corporate dignitaries, and keynote speaker Charles Haley, an NFL Hall of Famer who won two Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and three more with the Dallas Cowboys. Haley mixed serious and light-hearted messages to motivate and entertain an audience of about 1,000, including former Cowboys teammate Chad Hennings, an Air Force Academy graduate who won three Super Bowl rings with Haley and the Cowboys.

Also in the audience were former and current members of the Armed Services, wounded warriors and Ronald Lee Ermey, a Vietnam veteran and an actor best known for his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

On Tuesday morning, the 29th, pre-game activities in the overflowing Tailgate Outpost area brought forth more wounded warriors and former and current members of the Armed Services, who mixed with Cal and Air Force fans and plain ol' military and college football enthusiasts. The Outpost successfully mixed interactive and military hardware displays with games, prizes and pre-game parties and pep rallies for fans of both teams.

By the time members of the U. S. Air Force's Wings of Blue sky dive team parachuted into the stadium around 1 pm, enthusiasm, patriotism and anticipation were at fever pitch. A few minutes later, as the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner was concluding, about 40,000 people erupted into a thunderous applause and roar of approval when four Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II fighters flew over The Carter. The planes were flown in a four-ship formation by 61st Fighter Squadron pilots and crew from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. This marked the first time for a four-ship flyover at a collegiate sporting event. Previously, a four-ship formation flyover had only been experienced at last year's NFL Pro Bowl. It was another fitting first for Fort Worth and Amon G. Carter Stadium!  (https://vimeo.com/150345663)

The afternoon featured patriotic overtones that recognized all of the services, several once-in-a-lifetime, emotional experiences and many standing ovations and tears from appreciative spectators, which included approximately 12,000 members of the Armed Services who received free bowl tickets.

The 2015 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Great American Patriot Award, presented by Armed Forces Insurance, was awarded to General Mark A. Welsh III, in recognition of his exemplary service to the United States. Welsh, who is a native of San Antonio and a 40-year Air Force veteran, serves as the Chief of Staff of the U. S. Air Force. He is responsible for organizing, training and equipping a team of over 660,000 Airmen serving around the globe. The senior uniformed officer of America’s Air Force, General Welsh is also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he and other service chiefs serve as military advisers to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Council, and the President. After receiving the award, General Welsh, flanked by senior military officers from each branch, and watched by a hushed crowd, administered the oath of enlistment to about 100 men and women who were accepting the challenge and call of duty by enlisting or commissioning to serve the United States of America.

In partnership with the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, Vietnam veterans were recognized by a ceremony that included Ermey. Air Force Staff Sergeant Blake Coney, who has been deployed at Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany, was reunited with surprised members of his family. Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouses of the Year were honored. Lockheed Martin employees donated $25,000 to The Mission Continues Fort Worth, Dallas and Arlington Service Platoons, which consist of military veterans and family members who focus their talents, skills and expertise on veterans' issues in their communities. Over 160 Purple Heart recipients and their family members were recognized. Retired and wounded U. S. Marine Corps Sergeant Joshua Winland and his family were recognized as one of the many veteran families who recently received the gift of a fully renovated, mortgage-free home, thanks to the Military Warriors Support Foundation's Homes 4 Wounded Heroes Program and Bank of America.

Oorah. Hooah! Hooyah! Hua!

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. There also was a football game. After all, that's typically what has happened inside Amon G. Carter Stadium since 1930. 

Despite a valiant, never-say-die effort, the Air Force Falcons couldn't withstand California's relentless aerial attacks, with the Bears prevailing, 55-36. As Cal's quarterback, Goff threw for 467 yards and six touchdowns, both of which are Armed Forces Bowl records. Goff's 467 yards also broke California's bowl-game record, which had been held by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (394 yards).  As Air Force's quarterback, Roberts threw two touchdown passes, which tied an Air Force bowl record, and ran for 69 of the Falcons' 285 rushing yards. Goff and Roberts were named the game's Most Valuable Players.

So, while the Golden Bears took the coveted Armed Forces Bowl trophy home to Berkeley, December 28 and 29, 2015, proudly will be remembered in Fort Worth for a whole host of reasons. After all, the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is much more than a bowl game!