By Troy Phillips, LMAFB Staff Writer
There was that one game (Marshall vs. Cincinnati) where the wind chill fell into the teens and the hot chocolate ran out. Or that dizzying 25-point rally by Houston to edge Pittsburgh by a point.
There were the six touchdown passes by California’s Jared Goff against Air Force. Or Utah safety Eric Weddle lining up on offense (two ways!) for the winning TD run against Tulsa.
Or when TCU “hosted” Boise State in the inaugural game, the Frogs losing in heartbreak on a game-turning fumble and missed field goal attempt.
They’re but a few of the memories encapsulated in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl’s history, set to stage its 15th edition on Dec. 23 when Army (8-3) faces San Diego State (10-2) at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.
“Going back to our very first game (in 2003) with TCU and Boise, that was lightning in a bottle,” LMAFB executive director Brant Ringler said. “Two top-20 teams made it special to get us off the ground.”
Today, the bowl is a preferred destination for the three FBS service academies (nine of 15 years). Its military theme and peripheral events that honor active-duty, wounded or veteran service men and women are LMAFB traditions.
The tributes, the wounded warriors, flyovers and skydivers, military bands, honor guards, branch inductions, surprise reunions of active-duty families – not to mention the heaviest, baddest bowl trophy forged from battle armament and finished in black matte – have filled a proverbial time capsule.
“The fans and Fort Worth have really embraced it,” Ringler said. “Everything we’re trying to do is meant to give proper thanks. We try to put the best product on the field, but ‘Armed Forces’ is in the title, and we make sure that has meaning.”
The bowl has seen its share of eventual NFL-ers: Weddle (Utah), Goff, Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, Thomas DeCoud, Lavelle Hawkins, Alex Mack and Craig Stevens (Cal), Case Keenum and Kevin Kolb (Houston), Josh McNary (Army), Bo Schobel (TCU), Trent Cole (Cincinnati) and Vance McDonald (Rice).
Before Lockheed Martin, it had two previous title sponsors and played one year (2005) without one. It borrowed another stadium (SMU) for two years while TCU’s was under reconstruction.
Wilder moments included back-to-back kickoff returns for TDs by Air Force and Houston in 2009, and Houston’s Ty Cummings recovering two onside kicks in the Cougars’ 35-34 comeback win over Pitt in 2015.
In 2012, Rice backup Driphus Jackson replaced Taylor McHargue at quarterback when the Owls trailed Air Force 14-7. Jackson mis-aimed on an option pitch before halftime but had a gutsy 10-for-12 performance in the second half. His 264 yards passing and two TDs fueled a 33-14 victory.
In 2007, Air Force had Cal reeling early. The Falcons led 21-0 but lost triple-option quarterback Shaun Carney with a game-turning injury. At the same time, Cal sent in freshman backup QB Kevin Riley, who had NFL-quality weapons at his disposal in the Golden Bears’ 42-36 victory.
“That first Cal-Air Force game was one of our best out of the gate,” Ringler said. “Phenomenal players, back and forth. I remember Army playing in 2010 at SMU’s stadium against them. They hadn’t been to a bowl in some time, and [McNary] returned that fumble for touchdown.
“I just remember how happy Army looked to take that trophy home. So many great games.”
More should fill the time capsule this year, perhaps a record performance by San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, the FBS rushing leader with 2,027 yards.
Maybe Army adds another bowl win to its latest resurgence. Maybe a huge turnover, return on special teams or unexpected passing performance.
After 15 years, expect anything.