Two noteworthy events in the past week could signal a better diagnosis for Colorado Springs. And no, they don’t have anything to do with adding jobs or attracting new businesses.
First, last Saturday night, Air Force football awakened from a long slumber and laid a 28-14 whipping on heavily favored Boise State. It was arguably the Falcons’ biggest victory in four seasons, since a 14-7 defeat of Georgia Tech in the 2010 Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La.
This might have meant more because it came against a team as prominent as Boise State, which has dominated the Mountain West Conference and Air Force since joining the league in 2011. Also, the win happened before a happy home crowd of 30,012 — most obviously coming from this area — as well as a national TV audience.
Then on Tuesday, a full-house crowd of hockey aficionados flocked to the Marriott Hotel for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation’s annual preseason hockey luncheon, focusing on Colorado College and Air Force.
The 331 attendees listened to both head coaches, Air Force’s veteran Frank Serratore and Colorado College’s newcomer Mike Haviland, as they talked about the season ahead. And though Serratore always is good for countless laughs, more interest focused on Haviland, embarking on his first campaign as a college head coach.
Haviland didn’t disappoint, fervently painting the future in optimistic terms, promising the “bar is set very high” and “I didn’t take this job to win in five or 10 years — we want to win now.”
By the time Haviland finished his 15-minute talk, you could tell why CC’s players and fans are feeling enthusiastic about the regime change in that program, despite the Tigers being picked to finish last in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
And for someone who has observed the local sports scene for nearly 40 years, those developments are a welcome sight.
This is not about analyzing the local sports teams in detail. It’s about how their success — or lack of it — can influence the mood and, to be honest, the community pride of Colorado Springs.
Let’s go back three decades. In the early 1980s, Air Force football began winning consistently, beating Notre Dame and winning bowl games four consecutive years, 1982 through 1985. The city embraced the AFA program, with more than 40,000 regularly filling Falcon Stadium. Those were good times for the region as well, with the economy humming along.
What always struck me, beginning in those years, was how Air Force football pulled together the city and its people more than anything else. At those games, everybody was on the same side — not divided by politics or whatever. When the Sky Sox appeared, bringing minor-league baseball here in 1988, that unity carried over into more of the year, especially when the team won titles in 1992 and 1995.
Also in the 1990s, Colorado College hockey re-emerged as a national power. That gave Colorado Springs even more foundation for civic pride, as the Tigers came within a whisker of the 1996 national championship and became annual fixtures in the NCAA Tournament.
We came out of that with the new World Arena, more growth and more community spirit. Air Force men’s basketball even flourished from 2003-2008, adding to the atmosphere.
In recent years, though, everything seemed to deflate at the same time. Air Force football — and its attendance — began to falter, as did CC hockey. (Sky Sox baseball still could draw well despite not making the playoffs since the 1990s, but that became more about family entertainment, not local pride.)
Air Force hockey has been the exception, with a streak of eight winning seasons, but its arena and fan base obviously are much smaller.
At those games, everybody was on the same side — not divided by politics or whatever.
[/pullquote]At the same time, we’ve seen a rapid increase in local antipathy, especially toward and within the city government. I’m not saying that’s directly tied to college sports. But I am saying that not having more success and spirit for the area teams took away an important, underappreciated ingredient that was so good for the region’s psyche over the past generation.
Now, perhaps we’re seeing the start of another turnaround.
As Serratore said, bluntly but smartly, at the luncheon Tuesday, “We all need Air Force football to do well.”
When that happens, and when Colorado College hockey also is winning, more businesses jump on board with sponsorships, more people spend their extra money going to games, everyone cheers together … and Colorado Springs pulls together — not apart.
I’ve seen it happen too many times, here and elsewhere. Sports, especially college teams, have that kind of power. And if it really is making a comeback, we will benefit. Just watch.