Air Force takes top spot in NFL Military Challenge again

  • Published
  • By Mark Munsey
  • 15th Airlift Wing contributor
As the Hickam-rostered Air Force team went for their fourth straight victory in the NFL Military Challenge Feb. 6 and 7 at Oahu's Kapiolani Park, the storyline bordered on stale.
So like any good movie sequel, in addition to the returning villains -- Army, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard teams -- a couple of new antagonists made their debut. 

The base's operational readiness inspection schedule kept Senior Airman Richard Good from thrice-defending his field goal kicking crown. Instead, 1st Lt. Mike Maynard did his best Matt (New England Patriot quarterback) Cassel impression replacing a legend. If it weren't for the Army team, with a former collegian kicker on their roster making all 10 of his swings, Maynard's nine would have kept the streak alive. 

Then there was the challenge officials themselves conspiring against the blue during the punting competition. While several unofficial scorekeepers had Senior Airman Nathan Angel three-punt yardage total -- including the event's only non-penalized crush of 37 yards -- firmly locked in second place, the judges ponderously placed him fourth. 

It was a wake-up call, according to Capt. Nate Allen, Air Force four-year team captain who was unaccustomed to anything but trophy posing at the closing ceremonies. 

"We knew we had to take care of this ourselves" he said. 

The five-person 40-yard dash relay had a new twist: all the teams running at once. A chance to clear up old debts, according to Capt. Marcus Fox, former championship track star at Claflin College in Orangesburg, S.C. 

"They clocked the Army beating us by about 1/100th of a second last year," he bemoaned. "This was a sprint to redemption." 

It was left to the last-leg and legs of Senior Airman Winston Jackson, to seal the deal, but not without drama. 

"I slipped and he got off better than me," Jackson said. "But I caught him." 

It was the team's first first-place finish, but far from it's last. 

Newcomer Capt. Dwayne Clark became the team's fourth quarterback in as many years, but the passing competition results remained the same. The only team to not miss a single reception opportunity, the victory was already well in hand when, with seconds remaining, Clark gave the subtle head nod to final receiver Allen, who blasted down the sideline and hauled in a 43-yarder. 

The final challenge, which anyone who has tried to make a varsity roster would recognize as 'suicides' was best summed up by the Marine team captain: "I didn't know we were coming out here against the Air Force track and field team." 

Another event victory, another overall day of the other branches playing for second place; the Coasties and Marines tied for fourth, Navy came in third and Army placed second.
Allen, in his final military challenge before heading back to Colorado Springs to,  naturally, become a position coach on the Air Force Academy football team where he starred just four years ago, kept the day's events in perspective even as held the victor's cup high. 

"It's been a great chance to compete against our sister-service warriors in a friendly, athletic environment," he said. "I just wish I could be here next year when we go for one for the thumb." 

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