Photo: Teven Birdow
#AFAN (Air Force/Army/Navy) stories: My series is about more than academy football players. These stories are about future officers selflessly committed to serving their country during a seemingly endless war on terrorism. There are only 0.5 percent Americans making up the military. Throughout our history Cadets and Midshipmen have answered the call to serve in times of war, but this is a generation of volunteers.
--- “I get to work daily with heroes that joined the military AFTER we were attacked on 9/11, AFTER the war started in Afghanistan and AFTER the war started in Iraq. I would like to think I’m that brave, but I’m not so sure."
-- Phil McConkey, 1979 Navy grad and New York Giants Super Bowl champion
By TOM SHANAHAN
Life set up Teven Birdow for failure. He was 5 years old when his father was sentenced to prison for a home invasion crime in Oklahoma City. That placed him on an all-too-common path that traps many American youths.
Birdow, though, can thank his lucky stars for his mother, Jamie Rodrigues.
She went without to provide him what he needed for school and a college future. By the time Teven graduated from Altus High in Oklahoma, he was a football star in a town that was home to Altus Air Force Base. The academic path his mother cleared seemed set in the cosmos for the future Falcons star.
The symmetry included irony since Birdow was unaware the Air Force Academy was a college with a football team until he was 12 years old. In the 2010 season, the Falcons visited Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium in Norman.
“I was an OU fan, and I wondered, ‘Who is Air Force?’ ” he recalled thinking.
He eventually learned much more once Air Force assistant coach Ben Miller recruited him.
“He gave me a look at my future at this place,” Birdow said in a phone interview. “Everything was outstanding compared to other places. It was a good future for a kid with a single parent. It was a chance to play football. The positives outweighed any negatives.”
His father, Jermaine Birdow, missed all of his son’s growing up while in prison. He never saw Teven play sports – at any level – until Taven was 21, an Air Force senior starting fullback and nine months from graduation as a commissioned officer. Jermaine is trying to make up for lost time.
He recently spoke about his troubled life at Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown of Lawton, Okla. His new path is taking him to Air Force games this season, starting with the season-opening win on Aug. 30 over Colgate.
“He’s very proud of me,” Birdow said. “It is what is, so I’m I can talk about it. We’ve always been in contact.”
Next up for Air Force (3-1) is a trip to Navy (2-1) on Saturday in Annapolis.
Jermaine, who played at Oklahoma State in the late 1990s, has experienced the “Bedlam Series” -- the rivalry with Oklahoma – but he’s in for a surprise when he sees the first round of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy round robin series that includes Army.Only people exposed to the academies understand the intensity and respect among players playing the games among the three service academies.
The Air Force-Navy matchup is always first followed by Air Force-Army and then the Army-Navy Game. Players from all three sides say the only thing the Army-Navy Game has on the showdowns with Air Force is 100-plus years of history and pageantry.
Tevin felt the intensity as a sophomore at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as the Midshipmen withstood an Air Force comeback to win 48-45.
“My first Air Force-Navy game was an electric environment,” Birdow said. “It was one of the craziest things I’ve seen. I’ve come to understand how important this game is; there is a lot of pride. We play the same style of football (option) so it’s always a grind, especially between the tackles.”
That’s where Air Force is counting on Birdow this season. In four games, he’s second on the team in rushing with 338 yards on 64 carries. He’s averaging 5.3 yards a carry and 84.5 per game and hasn’t had negative-yardage carry this season.
Last week he posted his second career 100-yard game with 25 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns in a Mountain West win over San Jose State. It was an important bounce-back victory over a team that was fresh off a triumph over Arkansas the same week that the Falcons had suffered their first loss to No. 16-ranked Boise State.
“They caught our attention beating an SEC team,” Birdow said, “but our focus is always the same.”
The second half of Birdow’s sentence demonstrated he’s indoctrinated into the military lifestyle of preparation as an officer. The structure has helped him beat a trap that life had set for him. The opponents he tries to beat now are on the football field, most notably Navy and Army.
Win those two games, and Birdow’s Air Force path will take him to the White House along with his senior teammates in the spring for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy presentation.
That’s a long way from his father’s sentencing in an Oklahoma City court room.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”