By Mike Burrows, The Denver Post
Chad Hennings has three Super Bowl championship rings from his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, but says his Air Force Academy ring “represents a greater accomplishment.” Hennings graduated from the Academy in 1988 with credentials as imposing as the Cadet Chapel and nearby Rampart Range and is still the most decorated football player in USAFA history.
He was a sophomore starter on the 1985 AFA team that bolted to a 10-0start, beat Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl, led the nation in victories at 12-1 and finished high as No.5 in the national polls. In 1987, his unanimous All-America senior season, he led the Falcons to a 9-4 ledger and the Freedom Bowl and was named Western Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year after posting 24 sacks.
The two-time Academic All-America also became the only player from a Colorado School to win the prestigious Outland Trophy, awarded to the Nation’s best lineman, and capped his Academy career by playing in the East-West Shrine Classic and Japan Bowl all-star games. Later, he was named WAC Defensive Player of the Decade (1980s). Not bad for a former State Champion prep wrestler who came to the USAFA from a 900-acre farm near Elberon, Iowa (pop. 150) to play tight end in an option offense!
“Back then, Fisher DeBerry (AFA coach) was throwing only two passes a game,” Hennings said from his Flower Mound, Texas home. “The coaching staff approached me after my freshman year about moving the defense. I was a little apprehensive at first, but then I realized I’d be more involved at defensive tackle than I would be at tight end.”
Hennings emerged from post graduate Air Force pilot training with the keys to an A-10 tankbuster known affectionately in the U.S. military as the Warthog. It was the only AF fighter jet with a cockpit large enough to accommodate his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame. Even then, he had to downsize some to fly 45 missions over northern Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.
After the War, when the Air Force also decided to downsize, Hennings put aside four years of active duty, switched to the reserves and reported to the Cowboys for training camp in 1992. Dallas had selected him in the 11th round of the 1988 draft, hoping to get him after his military obligation was fulfilled. Hennings played nine years for the Cowboys, retiring because of a neck injury in 2000 after helping the club become the first NFL franchise to win three Super Bowls in a four-year period.
“I’m most proud of my years at the Academy, which did so much for me. Colorado’s always been like a second home to me,” said Hennings. “The Academy’s where I started really achieving, so going into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (after being inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame last fall) is a great honor.”
DeBerry said Hennings “exemplifies a life of outstanding character and integrity” and “fits all of the qualifications looked for in a Hall of Famer.”
Hennings is retired from football, not from life. He’s active in Dallas-area charity work, remains an Air Force officer (major) in the inactive reserves, gives motivational speeches and is co-founder of an investment company handling multi-million dollar projects. He’s also written a book, “It Takes Commitment,” to guide teens towards productive lives. He and his wife Tammy (from Buena Vista, CO) have a son Chase and a daughter Brenna.
The coaching staff approached me after my freshman year about moving the defense. I was a little apprehensive at first, but then I realized I’d be more involved at defensive tackle than I would be at tight end.