Football parties make Iraq feel a bit like home

By Steve Mraz, and Zeke Minaya, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, February 6, 2007

AL ASAD, Iraq — Super Bowl Monday?

For U.S. troops around Iraq, Super Bowl Sunday actually began Monday when the big game kicked off at 2:30 a.m.

The early-morning start didn’t prevent dozens of soldiers and Marines from watching the game at the Camp Ripper chow hall on Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq’s Anbar province.

Marine Sgt. Justin Poole, 28, of Arizona, cheered on the Indianapolis Colts — who beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 — because his San Francisco 49ers didn’t make it. He said the viewing party also provided a sense of home.

“It makes you feel like you’re back home, almost, when you’re watching the game with everyone around,” said the Marine with the 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion. “That’s why I wanted to come.”

An Army unit making its way back to Germany from Hit, Iraq, watched the game in the Camp Ripper chow hall after its flight landed at the base just prior to kickoff.

“It was perfect timing,” said Spc. Jason Taylor with Company A, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Friedberg, Germany. “I think the pilots wanted to watch, too, because the flight came in early.”

In between plays, Spc. Andrew Kline, 30, of Cary, Ill., did his best impression of the “Saturday Night Live” skit in which comedians played beer-guzzling, sausage-loving, heart-attack-suffering Bears fans who were overly optimistic about their team’s abilities.

While no beer or Polish sausage was on hand, Kline and friends relished the opportunity to see “da Bears” play in the Super Bowl.

“We do what we have to,” said Kline in an intentionally exaggerated Chicago accent. “We got da Bears. That’s all that matters.”

At Camp Speicher in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, Sgt. Montoya Fleming, of the 209th Aviation Support Battalion, said he would be happy to see either team hoist the championship trophy.

“To be honest, I don’t care who wins. We have two African-American coaches in the game, and one of them is going to make history today,” said the 28-year-old native of Clemson, S.C. As an African-American, Fleming said, he was proud to witness the accomplishment.

Soldiers picked at a buffet of Buffalo wings, chicken strips and cheese sticks as the dining facility was turned into Sports Bar, USA. Workers tossed T-shirts into the grasping hands of soldiers during breaks in game action.

First Sgt. Andrew Griffith, 35, of the Virgin Islands, said he appreciated the reminder of life back at home and the opportunity to unwind with friends. “I’m just having a good time,” he said.

Griffith was at the heart of a playful controversy among his fellow soldiers of the 556th Personnel Services Battalion. Griffith, who was passionately pulling for the Colts to win, had been a fan of the team only since the playoffs, according to Sgt. Collin Burrington, 23, of Pottstown, Pa.

“It all started with Madden,” Burrington said of the popular football video game. Griffith’s true favorite team, the 49ers, are “sorry” in the game and Griffith turned to the Colts instead, Burrington said. “He switched to the best team in the game and he still loses,” Burrington said, laughing.

Griffith, the recipient of good-natured ribbing all game long, took it in stride. “Yes, it’s true,” he said of his switched allegiance. “I just admire [the Colts’] style of play.” Having squeezed a confession out of Griffith, his friends felt free to make admissions of their own.

Asked how long he had been a Bears fan, Sgt. Henry Moran, a 24-year-old from Paterson, N.J., didn’t skip a beat.

“A couple of weeks,” he said without looking up as the table erupted in laughter.

Green Zone teams beats FOB Falcon in ‘Baghdad Bowl’

Some U.S. soldiers didn’t just watch the Super Bowl broadcast, they were part of it.

The inaugural “Baghdad Bowl” featured two 15-man teams from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, battling it out Saturday in a flag-football contest sponsored and taped by the CBS television network.

Highlights were played on the Super Bowl pre-game show.

The game was the brainchild of CBS analyst and former NFL great Randy Cross, who came up with the idea on a goodwill tour of Afghanistan last year.

“When I came back, I suggested [it] to the CBS people because I knew we had the Super Bowl, we should do something in Baghdad,” said Cross, who also refereed the game. “I volunteered to come over here, then they approved it about a month-and-a-half, two months ago.”

Although the game was played at Forward Operating Base Prosperity, the teams were made up of soldiers from the International Zone — also called the Green Zone — and a team from Forward Operating Base Falcon in southern Baghdad.

“Team IZ” took the crown, 32-25.

After the game, Cross gave the team captains game balls signed by the CBS crew, including Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe.

“It’s not about us or CBS,” Cross said, “It’s about you guys and getting a chance to come out here and do this for you. We appreciate everything you guys do.”