At the end of a dark, gray Saturday afternoon in November 1983, Ken Hatfield gathered his Air Force football players near the sideline of Notre Dame Stadium and gave them a few final words of inspiration.
With the usual sellout crowd and a national ABC audience watching, the Falcons and Fighting Irish had battled through four roller-coaster quarters, with Air Force scoring two touchdowns in the final period to turn a 22-10 deficit into a 23-22 lead.
But Notre Dame marched downfield, led by quarterback Blair Kiel and tailback Allen Pinkett, to what looked to be a certain, dramatic last-minute score, until two big defensive plays forced the Irish to run the clock down to a game-ending field goal. With thousands either screaming or saying Hail Marys, Air Force's head coach delivered the perfect message.
"Gentlemen," Hatfield told his players, "you're going to remember the next play for the rest of your lives."
Moments later, AFA defensive tackle Chris Funk deflected the final kick as the clock reached 0:00, the crowd went dead silent — and the heavens opened to drench everyone with rain as the Falcons celebrated their first-ever victory on college football's most historic field.
You could write a lengthy book (and I still might someday) about Air Force's football memories, and that would rank near the top. It came near the end of Hatfield's fifth season as head coach, which ended with a 10-2 record and an Independence Bowl victory against Mississippi. In his final two-plus years, the Falcons produced many AFA firsts: the first two wins over Notre Dame, the first two sweeps of Navy and Army for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, the first two bowl victories, the first conquest of Brigham Young, the first 10-win season.
A month after that momentous day at Notre Dame, Hatfield tearfully said goodbye to Air Force, leaving on a journey that took him to Arkansas, Clemson and Rice before he retired after the 2005 season. But Air Force never forgot the coach who laid the sturdy foundation that has produced so many more successes over the ensuing three decades.
Now comes another honor for Hatfield, as he joins the 2010 class of inductees into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. The group, announced this week, will be inducted at the annual banquet, presented by the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., on Oct. 27 at Colorado Springs World Arena. It should be a happy reunion for Hatfield, with his many AFA friends, former players and assistants, but it won't be totally blissful, because the coach's wife, Sandy Hatfield, lost a battle with pancreatic cancer in January 2009.
Others in the Hall of Fame class include:
• Sherrice King, a multi-sport star at Rampart High School in the late 1980s who later played basketball at the University of Colorado and now is an administrator at Texas A&M.
• Ken Brown, a standout Wasson High School athlete in the 1960s and later a Rhodes Scholar as well as a college and world-level champion in rowing.
• Mitchell High School's 1981 football team, which went 14-0 with memorable games against Wasson and Air Academy en route to the state championship, coached by 2009 Hall inductee Jim Hartman.
• Dave Elmore and Fred Whitacre, the team owner and president-general manager who brought the Sky Sox and Pacific Coast League baseball from Hawaii to Colorado Springs in 1988, with Elmore still today adding resources to improve the franchise and its facilities.
• The 1980 U.S. women's volleyball team led by Flo Hyman, Debbie Green and Patty Dowdell, the first permanent residents of the Olympic Training Center. They were aiming for a gold medal until the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
• And Andy Gambucci, who helped Colorado College win the 1950 NCAA hockey title and also starred at CC in football and baseball, then won a silver medal on the 1952 Olympic team. He later was a longtime on-ice official for college hockey during his career as an insurance executive in Colorado Springs.