“We ... want ... Whimpey! We ... want ... Whimpey!” the Air Force cadets chanted as the Boise State football players made their high-five circuit through the Broncos’ cheering section Saturday night at Falcon Stadium.
And then there he was — the Broncos’ sophomore linebacker, who was a key contributor in Boise State’s 48-38 win.
The cadets cheered. Whimpey beamed. And they exchanged handshakes.
It would be a bizarre scene anywhere other than the Air Force Academy, where there was a unique respect between the visiting Broncos and the fans — and future U.S. service members — who stood behind their bench teasing them for hours.
Whimpey was a natural target.
“Whimpey’s a pretty unique name,” he said. “It was funny. They were chanting, ‘We love Whimpey,’ and I’d look back and smile at them a couple times.
“After the game, as we had a chance to go over and give everyone high-fives, they were awesome. They were giving me hugs.”
The exchange between the Broncos and the cadets came moments after Boise State made a protocol error that led Athletic Director Curt Apsey to email an apology to his Air Force counterpart immediately after the game.
Air Force players gather at game end in front of the school band, which plays the Third Verse — a long-standing tradition. Opponents usually stand with the Air Force players for the song or exit immediately, and the Mountain West has made that an expectation of its members.
Boise State has honored that tradition in the past — even at Albertsons Stadium — but players were greeting their fans during the song this time. Apsey stood a few yards from the Air Force players while the song was played and quickly realized the mistake. He motioned for the players to stop their walk around the stadium as they headed toward the Air Force gathering.
Boise State isn’t the first team to mishandle the Third Verse tradition. Opponents usually are reminded by Air Force officials but it’s unclear if that happened Saturday.
“Boise State has the utmost respect for the Air Force Academy and we failed to remind our team to stand with the cadets for the Third Verse following tonight’s game,” Apsey said in a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman. “I have already sent a message to Athletic Director Col. Jennifer Block expressing our sincerest apologies to the Academy.”
Whimpey said the interaction between the players and cadets was unlike anything else the Broncos experience on the road.
The cadets told senior linebacker Blake Whitlock that he needed Rogaine and had other “good jokes,” Whimpey said.
Whitlock laughed and ran his hand across his hair as he walked past the cadets after the game.
“Those guys are awesome, and they do a lot for our country,” Whimpey said.
That respect extends to the cadets on the field, who presented the Broncos with a difficult challenge yet again. Boise State won at Air Force for the first time in three tries and improved to 4-3 in the series overall.
Air Force led 28-21 late in the first half before Boise State scored 17 straight points to seize control. It took a remarkable performance by Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien (399 yards, five TDs) to overcome the Falcons.
“They’re always competitive,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said, “they’re always tough to play, and obviously it’s tough to play here.”
On this night anyway, it was also fun for the Broncos.
Chadd Cripe is the Idaho Statesman’s sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com and follow @chaddcripe on Twitter.