Saturday, September 12, 2009

When Air Force Football Soared In Europe

Ah, the great '80s.

Darryl Strawberry.

Steffi Graf.

The Berlin Wall.

Wait a minute. What was great about the bloody wall?

Nothing philosophically. It kept millions of Germans prisoners. And stood for the evil empire that Ronald Reagan tore down.

Yet when the Berlin barrier crashed with two months left in the '80s, one group saw the downside. That would be the American military.

For our GIs in Europe, the party simply stopped in the twilight of the '80s. Suddenly vibrant American communities from England to Turkey had no reason to stay in business.

Soon enough, our troop count shrank from 375,000 under Reagan to 100,000 under Clinton. With that disappearing act, bases, barracks, commissaries and schools vanished.

One big league followed them into the ether. When the wall came down, it took Air Force football's heyday with it.

What a stud league it was. Teams competed all over England, Germany, Holland and Spain. Fans packed base stadiums. And I had one fun ride covering the action for Stars & Stripes, the GI newspaper.

The other day, a bunch of former players huddled in Las Vegas to relive those glory days. The group invited me to speak at the reunion, and I was honored. I was also ready with points:

With so many Air Force guys in the room, I felt as safe as Brink's.

Reporting for Stars & Stripes was the dream job of the '80s. First, my boss was Bob Wicker, an MVP of a sports editor. Second, my beat was Air Force football.

That was my ticket to traipse around Europe covering America's finest. Up to England's bases at Upper Heyford, Mildenhall, Lakenheath. Over to Germany's fields at Bitburg, Ramstein, Rhein-Main.

OK, it could get ugly. The Chicksands base in England hanged me in effigy. My sin: picking the other team to win.

They all added up to our boys in blue playing a great American sport. In Europe.

Simply a ball on the west side of the wall.

Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California who runs

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