The non-alcoholic beer has been purchased. The popcorn and chips are ready. The beef jerky sent in care packages by friendly church groups has been stockpiled, and the bunker is waiting in case we get attacked. We’ll gather around the TV and watch whatever game is on while those with teams not being aired will find another way to keep up with their game. We’ll yell, cheer, drink near-beer, swear, kick filing cabinets on bad plays and we’ll do all the other stuff we do at home when watching football. It’s almost another Football Night in Afghanistan.
NBC tells us that Sunday night is Football Night in America. But when the sun sets over the Hindu Kush mountain range, Sunday night also happens to be Football Night in Afghanistan, except the games being broadcasted are the traditional one o’clock games seen across America thanks to the eight-and-a-half-hour time difference.
The television service here, American Forces Network (or AFN), only plays two of the one o’clock games. One game, the AFN Fan’s Choice of the Week, is chosen by a Facebook poll; the other is completely arbitrary. I’m sure there is a methodology, but it remains a mystery.
Regardless of which game is on, there is always a crew ready to watch. Joe is a diehard Buffalo Bills fan, has a “Bills Fans Only” parking sign above his desk and has eye-burning red, white and blue Zubaz pants that he’s not allowed to wear. Dan is a Tennessee Titans fan, though he is more of a casual fan mostly concerned with his fantasy team. Chris roots for the Washington Redskins and has no opinion on the controversy over the team’s name that he has cared to share. Rodney is a New York football Giants fan that alternates between loving Eli Manning and saying he looks like he’s had a stroke. John, Christy and Nik are Dallas Cowboys fans, though only one of them has any sort of tie to Texas—because of course.
Whoever decides to make a night of it, we crowd around the 30-inch flat screen TV in the wooden hut we use for an office. The small, patent-leather couch is the most coveted real estate, but there are enough beat-up office chairs that everyone can get a good spot. Some fire up popcorn, some grab beef jerky, some opt for candy, but everyone grabs an overpriced near-beer. The air conditioners leak and dust comes in through the poorly framed door, giving every surface a fine coating, but when it’s Football Night in Afghanistan no one notices. The office/hut is scheduled for demolition in a few weeks, but until then, we’ll make the most of it on Sunday nights.
Life in Afghanistan in 2014 is not as bad as one would think. We’ve been closing down smaller bases and moving troops to the larger, more permanent bases, which are akin to surreal, dusty American cities. We have Wi-Fi all over, albeit over-priced and spotty. We have 24-hour dining facilities. We have pick-up trucks and gators for moving around base because let’s be honest: walking is a pain in the ass. We have barracks that are newer than most on U.S. bases. Oh yeah, and free TV service with 10-plus channels. I just got back from dinner where they served crab legs, shrimp and steak. We’re not living in the dirt here.
Still, we are in a warzone away from our families and all we hold dear. We get rockets shot at us. We have to carry guns (OK, this one’s a positive).We can’t wear civilian clothes and we have to drive on roads with the threat of roadside bombs when we do leave the base. Because of all this, Football Night in Afghanistan holds greater significance than it does back in the states. It’s the one night a week here where professional football is on TV, live, at a semi-reasonable time, where fans of every team can gather and watch the NFL like they would at home, pretending for a few hours that they’re once again normal kids watching America’s greatest sport with their friends.
The only Cleveland Browns game to be aired here this season was Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints. I want to assume that it was chosen because of all the Browns fans stuffing the ballot box, but since I am a Browns fan, I understand deep in my heart that it was because of Saints fans. Well hey, good for them! This time it worked out for us deployed fans of the orange and brown, as few of us as there are.
This week, Week 5, the fan’s choice of the week was the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions. One of my buddies here has secured a Sunday Ticket log-in from one of his friends back home, so I had the possibility of viewing Cleveland football online if I could get it to work.
Of course I could not pull it off, but I did find 1480 WHBC’s internet radio station out of Canton, so I was able to listen to the game. Which, let’s be honest, was extremely stressful, even with the win. Kardiac Kids 2.0? Who knows. Joe, whose team was on TV, had a close game himself. There was yelling, screaming and the gnashing of teeth. He only slammed his iPad on the table once, which was an improvement from last week. Thank god for the OtterBox tablet cover.
Regardless of which method I have to use to follow the game, there are things I look for from the Browns each week in order to stay motivated about the season (since there are no moral victories in the NFL):
I guess a win is a given and doesn’t need to be listed, but I’m nothing if not thorough. This is the Army after all.
When the games are over, however, we won’t go to sleep next to our wives, husbands, girlfriends or boyfriends. Instead, we’ll walk back across a dusty base in Afghanistan to our six-man to a room barracks. We’ll get too little sleep and we’ll be assed-out come Monday.
We’ll come back to work, to the endless boredom broken only by the occasional sheer terror of a rocket attack or roadside bomb strike, and we’ll get the mission done. We won’t complain. But what we will do is talk about how we can’t wait for the next Football Night in Afghanistan. The near-beer. The jerky. The junk food from care packages. And for us Browns fans, we’ll think about those five points over the first three weeks, the one-point win this week, our competent hometown quarterback and a front office that finally appears to know what they’re doing. But most of all, we’ll think about how this might be our year, no matter how much reality argues otherwise, even if we can’t be there in person to soak it all in.
Want to help make the Browns future Games of the Week?
Head to the AFN Facebook page and cast your vote.