Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Blood Lust Kamikazes

By Todd Jagerson

Our 1963 Gator Bowl appearance was a disaster from start to finish. Kennedy’s assignation had demoralized us all, had extended the season and created academic problems for some, and the people responsible for arranging the trip to Florida totally dropped the ball. By game-day the team’s morale was at zero. Our only hope was Coach Martin, who was famous for his inspirational pre-game pep talks that could transform long dead nuns into blood-lust kamikazes. His speech that day was a masterpiece that invoked every tradition, belief, virtue, curse, loyalty and vengeance known to man – there wasn’t a dry eye in the locker room.

As he concluded, at precisely the right moment, Ben signaled Terry and I to lead the team out, everyone screaming their heads off, running faster and faster down the long concrete tunnel that led to the stadium floor. As we approached it, the tunnel entrance was still covered by a canvas tarp, so I sprinted ahead to pull the tarp aside, and as I did so… holy shit! Solid people! As we learned later, this was “band day,” every high school marching band in the State of Florida, thousands of kids, covered the field, right up to the tarp we were about to charge through. I turned, raised my arms to the stampeding kamikazes and screamed: “Stooooooop!” Then splat!

Out we spilled, a chaos of screaming players, flattened crying kids, scattered tubas and broken trombones in an arch far out onto the grass. A colossal mess, cheered on wildly by a partisan, mostly southern stadium crowd, and closely observed by our family and friends across the country. We eventually made our way back up the ramp but the blood-lust was gone and could not be rekindled. And so we just sat there and waited in silence -- to lose 35 to 0 on national TV. Is there a pithy moral to this tale? It all seemed like jump-off-a-cliff embarrassing at the time and none of us started seeing the slap-stick humor in it until we all got real drunk together. And, fortunately, a bunch of us did get drunk together that very night, and then we wept with laughter and have continued laughing ever since. The “Band Day” incident is on everyone’s list of special plays.

When we got back to the Academy the Gator Bowl outcome became something of a flap, with much finger-pointing that ultimately threatened Coach Martin himself. It seems the officer sent down to Florida to make the team arrangements – transportation, food, lodgings and the like – had simply gone on a bender, and was blaming everyone else. The entire 10-day trip was a nightmare spent at an abandoned air base with players sleeping on the floor. Concerned, Terry and I sent a lengthy letter supporting Ben to General LeMay in the Pentagon, via Al (McArtor) – something of a chain-of-command violation, if I recall. Two nervous days later Terry and I were called to the Superintendent’s office where, expecting punishment, we were informed that, in part because of the letter, Martin’s contract was not to be cancelled but was extended. Ben remained at the Academy for 20 years. He died in 2004 – remembered as a prince with the flair and style of a riverboat gambler.

Graduation Day, 3 June 1964, put the Gator Bowl and many other Academy adventures into proper perspective.
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