One of the U.S. Air Force Academy’s real-life falcon mascots was seriously injured in a prank before the Army-Air Force football game on Nov. 3.
The Air Force versus Army football game hasn’t been the military’s most attention-getting sports rivalry, but this prank and the emotional game that followed could bring it closer to the historically famed Army-Navy football rivalry.
The 22-year-old bird, named Aurora may have to be euthanized, according to an unnamed Air Force official speaking to The Gazette. The Army pranksters took the bird from where she was being kept—at an Army colonel’s quarters. They caused unspecified harm to her wings.
The falcon was brought back to Colorado Springs, Colorado, on a charter flight reserved for the school’s football team, for medical attention.
“We have specialists at the academy who have the best training and facilities for her care. She is part of our academy family and we are all hoping for her full and speedy recovery,” said academy spokesman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko, via The Gazette.
Aurora is a white gyrfalcon. Birds of this species can live up to 25 years in captivity, according to the Teton Raptor Center. They can travel at speeds of 75-85 mph for 10 miles straight in level flight, giving them the title of fastest animal in movement parallel to the ground.
The Air Force usually brings two falcon mascots to games, but only had one on Saturday. Aurora is considered a top falcon in the school’s falconry program. Twelve cadets manage six falcons in the program. Aurora was active in the program for two decades, The Gazette reported.
Army has been known to steal the mascot of its Navy rivals, often taking the live goat representing the Navy Midshipmen, but nobody had ever managed to kidnap one of the Air Force’s falcons, The Gazette reported.
Army went on to win the game, 17 to 14. Army ended the game with success on an extremely risky play that could have given Air Force a chance to win. Afterward, the Army Black Knights stormed the field. Air Force Falcons responded, and players had to be separated from the pushing and shoving that continued past the game’s last play, as ESPN video shows.
Three military academies—Army, Navy, and Air Force—compete each year for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The trophy is held by the school that wins the most games when these three meet during the course of the regular season. If the teams come out equal to each other, the trophy stays with the school who won it the previous year, SB Nation explained.
If Army beats Navy on Dec. 8 it’ll win the trophy outright. But it’ll keep the trophy regardless, since it clinched a tie with the other military academies with this latest win, and since it has held the trophy since last year, according to GoArmyWestPoint.
Army has 11 straight wins on its home field, and five straight wins overall.
“There’s not a bigger goal that we’ve got in our program than that Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. And it’s a source of pride for this academy. It’s a source of pride for the United States Army. And we’re glad to have it, and we intend to keep it,” Army coach Jeff Monken said.
Although the rivalry between Army and Navy is given the most attention, historically, Air Force won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy more times than the other two schools, with 20 outright wins so far, according to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The commander-in-chief, that is, the U.S. president, often presents the trophy to the winning team.