Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 15, 2004
PATRIOT GAMES: A Sports Diary From Iraq
I am pleased and honored to introduce a new recurring guest columnist. He's currently serving in Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division and will be blogging here under the pseudonym "Andy Tollhaus". Lacking a better title for the series, I'll be filing his dispatches under the heading "Patriot Games." Here's the first column, written back in February. Enjoy.
February 14, 2004
Two years ago, I had a great idea. After two fruitless years of waiting for another, I’m sitting in Kuwait writing this letter. I moved (PSC’d in Army lingo) to Germany in February of 2002, still picking red, white, and blue confetti out of my hair from the greatest Superbowl of my generation. During the NCAA basketball tourney that year, at about 4 AM Central European Time, my friend Brian and I talked about how different it was to be an avid sports fan serving in the Army. How different it is to miss an entire week of the NFL and NCAA Football because you’re in the field and don’t even get to watch the little helmets move across the screen on your ESPN Gametracker. How it’s different to miss the entire middle portion of the Major League Baseball season because you’re spending 6 weeks in Hungary being out on what Army movies call “maneuvers.” How it’s different to set your alarm for 3 AM to catch the 2nd and 3rd period of an NHL playoff game, one friend from New Hampshire wearing a Bruins hat and one from Michigan wearing a Red Wings Jersey.
This year watching the true America’s Team in the Superbowl had an entirely different feel to it. (Just for the record, how can the Pats not be America’s Team?! The Patriots. Red, White and Blue! What more do you want? Three Point Pat probably scored himself a couple of those cricket loving Red Coats back in Lexington, for all we know. Think about it. America gets to choose who America’s Team is, not Jerry Jones! But I digress…) The difference I felt in the Superbowl experience wasn’t just that it was only the second greatest Superbowl of my generation. And it went way beyond the obvious location and crowd: Germany with my new bride, Sarah, and some friends, as opposed to the Superdome with my brother, Jay and one of his “Army buddies.” That early Monday morning, there was a cloud hanging over our heads. Within 48 hours of the end of the game, I’d be saying goodbye to Sarah for a year while I deployed with the Big Red One (1st Infantry Division) to Iraq.
Sure the game was exciting, but everyone in the room was more concerned with what they had or hadn’t packed, what the conditions would be like and how hard it would be to say goodbye to normal life for a year. It didn’t even matter that most of us had money on the game (or some tiny detail in the game thanks to the brilliance of Internet gambling).
Two years ago Brian Pearson and I (roommates and Team Handball teammates at West Point until 2000) had the idea to write a column about being a sports fanatic serving in the Army in Europe. We wanted to write about the six hour time difference and how you could tell who the true fans were when you were watching the West Coast baseball games which often were still going when we went in for PT (physical training) at 6:30 in the morning. We wanted to write about going to see what the locals raved about at the Bayern Munich soccer game (which turns out has the same feel as big time college football, but no high-fiving). We would write the column from the perspective of a die-hard Red Sox fan and some Johnny-come-lately Yankees fan (just kidding Brian) and talk about how important sports were to those of us who are stationed abroad.
Now I finally feel that my story would be worth reading. It will be a journal of some sort. The articles will tell the story of a year spent away from home with a group of people of varying sports loyalties and interests. Looking back, sports events will serve as landmarks in our year long story that brought us closer together and helped take our mind off of that ever so slowly approaching day of homecoming. Even if no one cares about how we watch the NCAA tournament or who wins our Fantasy Football Leagues, the “columns” will serve as a nice collection of memories for me when I look back on what will no doubt be the most interesting year of my life so far.
Trust me, I’d much rather be writing that not-quite-as-interesting journal from Europe about Sarah and me finding an Internet phone booth in Glasgow, Scotland at one in the morning to watch the Don Zimmer icon charge the Pedro Martinez icon on the new ESPN Brawl–trackertm. It’d be more fun telling stories about Sarah and I watching the Red Sox almost “Cowboying Up” all the way to the World Series wearing our “O’Neill Sucks” t-shirts and trying to determine if that distinct “crack” sound at 6:14 AM came from Aaron “insert expletive here” Boone’s bat or my wife’s heart. It’d be cooler to write about the excitement I felt when I learned that my younger sister Susan, serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Al Asad, Iraq at the time, had earned an R&R leave slot during the World Series. Since our Iraq tours would overlap (missing each other by less than a week as we pass through Kuwait heading in opposite directions), Sarah and I had scheduled leave to go home and visit Susan last October -- the fact that the Sox were looking like World Series participants being an added bonus. (Incidentally, Susan took the opportunity to fly to South Bend to join a group of her college friends hoping to witness their alma mater beat Florida State. Well, that was last year. The Sox were not World Series participants, the Seminoles beat Notre Dame 37-0 and I never got around to writing anything. This year, though, is a brand new ballgame.
I’ll update as often as possible, at least when interesting things happen: the NCAA tourney, the NHL Playoffs, the Fantasy Baseball Draft, and, of course, the Army-Navy game. I’ll also make a point to write some entries strictly to introduce the readers to the people here, telling their sports fan biography.
I am a Captain in an Apache Battalion currently in Kuwait, moving north to Iraq, within two weeks. I’ve discussed the idea with my chain of command, and my battalion commander thinks it would be a unique way to pass information home and allow family members and friends to understand the daily life that is so hard to explain. Hopefully this turns into a regular thing, giving me one more way that sports will help pass the time.