Air Force Returns to Its Roots with 2023 Trip To Denver Vs Army

For the third straight year, Air Force vs Army heads to a neutral site. This time the game returns to The Centennial State.

Action from the 2021 Commanders’ Classic
Source: Danny Wild/ USA Today

On Monday, the Air Force Academy announced their 2023 meeting with Army will be at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium, the home of the Denver Broncos. This will come after the 2021 and 2022 meetings were held at Globe Life Field, the home of the Texas Rangers, or “The House That Isiah Kiner-Falefa Built.” This is an intriguing turn for a rivalry that had zero neutral site meetings since 1966.

Surprisingly, Air Force has been a stranger to Denver for the past 60 years. The Falcons have not played a game in Colorado’s capital since 1959 and have never played in the Denver Broncos’ two versions of Mile High Stadium. However, they did play in one little-known home of the Broncos, one that hosted

11 Broncos’ preseason games and two regular season games.

The Broncos moved games from Bears Stadium to Hilltop Stadium, the home of the University of Denver’s football team, when the Pacific Coast League’s Denver Bears had a game that conflicted with the Broncos. Bears’ Stadium would of course better be known as Mile High Stadium.

Before Falcon Stadium’s completion, the Falcons called Hilltop Stadium their home from 1956-1961. In that time, the Falcons went 13-9 in Colorado’s capital. Missouri, UCLA, and Maryland were among the most notable opponents Air Force played at Hilltop Stadium in the program’s formative years.

University of Denver’s Hilltop Stadium
Source: University of Denver

University of Denver’s Hilltop Stadium (University of Denver Archives)

Air Force did have the opportunity to return to the Mile High City in 2013 when Notre Dame came to Colorado for the first time since 2006. The Denver Tribune reported that the Denver Sports Commission offered $3.6 million for the Falcons to move the game to the Denver Broncos’ home. However, Troy Calhoun opted to keep the game at the Air Force Academy. The move cost the Air Force Academy over $1.5 million. (To read more about that ordeal, click here.)

The move to Empower Field may seem like a head-scratcher to many as an Air Force-Army game at Falcon Stadium has not exceeded 46,000 fans since 2011, with the low attendance point being a 37,716 fan turnout in 2015. It is reasonable to believe Air Force fans may show up in droves for the combination of a fun change of scenery for the rivalry and the short trip may increase turnout significantly.

With three straight neutral site games, the athletic directors at Army and Air Force may be trying to make Air Force-Army catch up to the Army-Navy game in national significance. Between this year’s Commanders’ Classic and next year’s game at Denver, only time will tell if their efforts are effective.