Air Force won but their fans embarrassed the Academy

Photo: Courtesy of Air Force Twitter

Let’s begin by saying the best team won last Sunday’s NCAA Tournament soccer match between Denver and the U.S. Air Force Academy – kudos to the AFA for upsetting DU on the road with a fine soccer performance on the field. Also, let’s further establish that our historical experience has normally been a very positive one with Air Force fans – be it lacrosse, hockey or basketball. Typically, our experience with Air Force fans are as exemplary as the high standards of conduct at the Academy. In fact, most of us DU fans cheer on Air Force when the Falcons aren’t playing DU, because the service academies represent some of the finest young men and women who serve our country with pride and distinction.

But yesterday was different. And we believe it was an embarrassment for the cadets and for the academy.

Sunday, Air Force fans turned the University of Denver Soccer Stadium into a ‘home’ game for the afternoon, helped in part by the notable absence of Denver fans due to DU’s final exams, the coming winter student break and a Denver Broncos game played at the same time. Good on AFA for traveling well and drawing north of 500 fans to the game—the majority of them well-behaved. Our issue is with the minority of AFA fans who weren’t so well-behaved…

Starting with a significant (and perhaps well-lubricated) pre-game fan tailgate in DU’s Parking Lot #108, and driven by what appeared to be a core group of about 50 cadets, these fans from Air Force stood as a group, loudly protested every call and became even more emboldened as their team generated a 2-0 halftime lead. Their loud comments, deriding the officials, DU players, the other service branches and even Denver fans in their section were constant and very hard to ignore. Taunting, more than cheering, was the theme as they chanted, “DU do you have any American players?’ In addition, a DU student photographer on the sidelines received non-stop catcalls and requests for her phone number during the contest by the Air Force fans, which was hard to watch.

After the game ended, this same core group of young Air Force Fans actually tried to ‘storm the field’ but a public announcement warned of fines for entering onto the playing surface. The Air Force fans then responded by singing  the ‘Na na, hey hey goodbye” song’- a derisive and unsportsmanlike gesture occasionally sung by home fans, but rarely sung by visiting fans. It simply capped-off the afternoon with a final bitter taste for DU fans (and perhaps some older Air Force fans) who were there to enjoy NCAA playoff soccer. In short, we expect better from Air Force.

Air Force Fans 3
Air Force fans were fired up – but did they cross the line?

On the other hand, a large contingent of fans from South Dakota traveled a lot farther than the Zoomies and had a major presence at the Summit League volleyball finals at Hamilton Gymnasium next door to the soccer stadium. Their University of South Dakota team won, defeating an undefeated DU squad for the Summit League title. They were loud and proud for their Coyotes, but showed great respect and class to the home DU fans and players. The USD fans acted like they had been there before – quite a contrast to our friends from the south.

What was your experience? Give us your thoughts.