As much as the New England Patriots have tried to maintain a sense of normalcy during their week-long stay in Colorado, there were plenty of moments that served as reminders that their time at the Air Force Academy was something special.
Like the speech Monday night from Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun, who detailed for players the rigors of basic training and survival training that all cadets, not just football players, endure just to enroll here. Then there was the surprise landing of eight members of the Wings of Blue skydiving team on the field following Wednesday’s practice.
“They said they had something special for us and pointed up in the air,” said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots steamrolled the Broncos in Denver on Sunday night and will face the Raiders in Mexico City this weekend. New England coach Bill Belichick is using the week in Colorado Springs, in which the Patriots will spend four days training and practicing at the Air Force facilities, as an exercise in appreciation for the military service academies while his players continue to train at altitude before they head south of the border.
Belichick, the son of a Navy football coach and scout, wanted his players to see the emphasis of discipline and leadership for cadets and to get an appreciation for their dedication to service.
“Tremendous respect for them and what they do and how hard it is to, No. 1, get into a service academy and, No. 2, meet the demands that the service academy puts on you physically, mentally, learning,” Belichick said.
“I mean look, the kids that come out of here operate the highest technological, most sophisticated equipment in the world, at a high level, at a high price, too. There’s a lot at stake. So what they do and how they do it and how they’re trained to do it, I’m very proud to be here.”
Calhoun addressed the full Patriots squad at the team hotel, and several players said they were stunned to hear about the training cadets are required to pass before their freshman year, including survival training that forces them to fend for themselves in the mountains.
Patriots running back Brandon Bolden said when Calhoun talked about basic training, he was able to draw some parallels to football training camp. At first. That ended when the talk turned to the survival training. Bolden said he would likely have to “eat bark for a whole week” in order to survive.
Players were also told about other attendance requirements, including strict academic standards, military training and an 11 p.m. curfew.
“Everyone kind of thought about it and was like, ‘That wouldn’t be for me,' " Bolden said. “I couldn’t imagine doing it.”
Only one Patriot could relate, long snapper Joe Cardona, who is a graduate of the Naval Academy. He played two games at Falcons Stadium as a member of the Midshipmen — he went 1-1 — and said he couldn’t help but give a little “Go Navy” when he was around members of the Air Force football team.
But Cardona said the bond players from academies have is unique — the fiercest of rivals on the field, but teammates in service off it.
“There really is a brotherhood among service academy players,” he said.
The Wings of Blue visited the Patriots' practice Wednesday.
Air Force Football welcomes the Patriots to Colorado Springs.