Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Enthusiastic servicemembers on Okinawa gather for big game
By Dave Ornauer, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Larry Platt waited until he saw the Raymond James Stadium score clock read 0:00 on the widescreen TV, then stood and waved his bright yellow Terrible Towel with gusto.
His Pittsburgh Steelers had just won their NFL-record sixth Super Bowl. And Platt, a 56-year-old Camp Zama civilian from Franklin, Pa., began the celebration surrounded by others among the Steeler faithful.
"They’ve been fighting with Dallas and San Francisco to see who’s going to have the most Super Bowls," Platt said Monday as the Zama Community Club’s Super Bowl party wound down.
About 800 fans thronged the Zama Community Club, as thousands more gathered in base clubs throughout the Pacific to fete the NFL’s championship game. Pittsburgh beat Arizona 27-23 in a cliff-hanger that was decided in the final seconds in Tampa, Fla.
The clubs had a sports bar feel to them. They offered breakfast buffets early in the morning followed by lunch and tailgate favorites later, and contest giveaways ranging from DVD players to passage to Hawaii and the Pro Bowl.
Cheerleaders from the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings performed and signed autographs at clubs in mainland Japan and Okinawa.
"This is the major sporting event in America. I think we need to present the same type of program to the troops that they’d have in the States," said Zama’s Army MWR director of commercial sponsorship, Bob McKeta.
"I like it," said Zama-based Sgt. Ramon Benitez, 33. "It shows that the NFL franchises care, and for the cheerleaders to volunteer their time to come out here."
Throughout the region, Steeler fans, decked out in black and gold and sporting Terrible Towels, comprised the lion’s share of club crowds.
"That’s what being a Steelers fan is all about," said Jeffery Ellis, a petty officer second class assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. "We have a worldwide fan base, we have history and we seem to pick up fans as the games go along."
Smaller but no less vocal groups had their fingers crossed for the Cardinals.
"I hate the Steelers," said Mike Holgate, a contractor at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. That was reason enough to root for Arizona, he added.
Steelers’ fans Airman 1st Class Lindsey Barrish and Staff Sgt. Joseph Benoit of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, were up by 3:30 a.m. to prepare for the game, which didn’t kick off until 8:20 a.m. Monday. That’s because they needed about an hour and a half to apply the face paint needed to show their team spirit, Barrish said in Kadena’s Banyan Tree enlisted club before erupting into cheers as the Steelers scored.
Senior Airman Corey Boldt of Kadena won a Kurt Warner No. 13 jersey in a raffle at the start of the second quarter, then he and other Steelers fans enthusiastically ripped the red-and-white Cardinal jersey apart.
"I treat Cardinals fans like the Steelers defense treats Cardinals," Boldt said.
Tension mounted in the clubs as the Cardinals fought back from a 20-7 deficit to take a 23-20 lead with just over two minutes left on a pair of Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catches.
"Magic," Zama’s Benitez said of Fitzgerald. "That guy keeps pulling rabbits out of his hat … He must have been born with Stickum on his hands."
But Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger’s last-minute TD pass to Santonio Holmes put the Steelers on top for good.
"I am relieved," Benoit said. "I had faith."
Many fans watching their first Super Bowl in the Pacific weren’t put off by seeing it live on a Monday morning instead of Sunday evening.
"I’ve got kids, so I’d have to get up anyway," said Tech Sgt. Toni Whitted of Yokota Air Base, Japan.