Out and about the Saturday night before the Superbowl, I ran into a guy I met a few weeks ago named Yuri. Yuri's a hulking Russian that I may or may not have told resembles a villian out of a Bond film...
...but contrary to my cheap impression, he is a very kind dude and a member of the U.S. forces stationed here in Daegu. We eventually got ourselves some "breakfast" after the bar.
I had originally planned to watch the big game at the Holy Grill, a renowned expat restaurant/sportsbar downtown. It's owned by a cheerful lumberjack of a Canadian, he's got a remote DVR setup back home called a slingbox and will gladly tape and play any sports event you could want. I watched #6 West Virginia play #21 Pitt in basketball a few weeks ago as there are a couple WVU alums here teaching. Watching new ESPN commercials never seemed like such a thrill.
Well, Yuri tried to talk me out of going to Holy Grill during breakfast, insisting instead that I watch at Camp Walker, the largest of three bases here. With promises of lots of food, beer, and enthusiasm (not to mention as American as a great American holiday could be) I agreed.
One big catch was the time he told me to meet him. I know I keep mentioning it, but I'm 14 hours ahead of EST. A 6:30PM kickoff time means 8:30AM here. Yuri seemed wary about finding room to sit, so he told me to meet him at 6:00AM. Ouch.
It's SUPERBOWL MONDAY MORNING IN KOREA. It's most certainly not the same...
The process of getting me into a high-security military base was anything but straightforward. I had to show a passport and surrender my Korean foreigner ID while Yuri had to sign me in with his ID and produce a digital fingerprint, which wouldn't be so hard, but the machine broke. Nice-ah!
Once in, I tried to use an ATM, but my Korean debit card wasn't working. Luckily, they have a huge BANK OF AMERICA, so I took out some greenbacks.
Long time, no see Mr. Jackson.
To add to the novelty of withdrawing US dollars from a BOA machine, the Supervenue Yuri led me to was a restaurant in the base called...brace yourself..."The Hilltop." My stories of giant cow statues outside famous American steakhouses seemed quite lost on my Russian comrade, but it didn't lessen my excitement. The Korean Hilltop didn't disappoint. I got that classic American buffet style breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, homefries, OJ, and shitty drip coffee. Oh, how absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Many of the servicemen and women were on the older side and there were a handful of military families with kids there. Yuri introduced me to his friend Ben, a Giants fan from New York. We were probably among the youngest there.
Watching the big projector screen setup, I realized we would not be watching a regular broadcast. Instead, I saw a feed of CBS through AFN, the Armed Forces Network. Ben informed me that there would be no hyped multi-million dollar ads, rather, we would be treated to military public service announcements and other non-commerical fillers.
Offerings of thanks and praise also came from Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, NFL Hall of Famers, sports commentators, and a load of players from the Saints and Colts. The messages seemed very heartfelt and I tried to spy how they were received by those around me. It often depended on the speaker, but I'd say by the end of the game, the generic thanks became something like a broken record to them.
The announcements reminded troops of important things like not to litter, get too drunk and create trouble with locals, or allow embarrassing videos or pictures of themselves (especially uniformed) to surface on the internet. They were all super low-budget, local business TV ad style. I was waiting for Ernie Bock Jr. to pop onto the screen...
By kickoff, you could hardly move in the place and overall I'd say the crowd favored Indy, patronizing the Saints fans from the start. When Manning connected for the first touchdown of the game, the Colts support really boomed. Even I could feel that the flood gates were about to open. It never happened though. As momentum shifted to the Saints, the "who dey" chants just got louder and louder through the second quarter and never stopped.
What a game. I was way into it, and discovered that rooting against the Colts was almost as motivating as rooting for the Pats. I was sucked into it all the more so by the general enthusiasm. Clapping, high fives, and jeers of all varieties came after most every play. It was a shame that it was so early, because there was so much food: pizza, chicken wings, mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and more. I wanted to find these treasured football foods appetizing, but given so little sleep and such a big breakfast, Miller Light draft was about as far as I could comfortably push it.
Props to my dad for calling the pic-six. I began to believe it would really happen over the course of the game, and then lo and behold, the most satisfying Peyton-face in history:
Hallelujah! Manning's on his ass, goodnight Colts!
At halftime, there was a guy from AFN giving things away like gift cards and NFL jerseys. After the game, they still had stuff left over. They gave out raffle tickets at the beginning for a lazy boy, but after giving up on awarding leftover prizes through NFL trivia that no one seemed to be able to answer, they just started calling numbers.
There was a huge pile of jerseys at the start, maybe one or more of every team up for grabs. Winners got to take the jersey of their choice. I wanted to split early, but Yuri insisted we stay until the prizes were gone. The last two jerseys left were a Vikings jersey and a Tom Brady jersey. The next winner, already donning a Jason Taylor Dolphin's jersey, picked up the Brady one and thought for a moment about his deep hatred for the beast of the AFC East before throwing it down in disgust and taking the Vikes one.
I was surprised and perhaps a little hurt that no one wanted anything to do with the Pats jersey; I was much more surprised and not at all hurt when the next number they called was mine! Woo!
I did hesitate for a moment to ask Yuri and Ben if it was okay, seeing as though I didn't want to overstep my welcome as a civilian guest, but they urged me on. So up I went with my Pats hoodie on that Kourt got me with a big grin. I think the jersey chose me.
When I picked it up, I realized this wasn't any replica plastic-screen print job, it was the real deal sewn numbers, logos, and name. At the NFL shop the authentic "on-field" jerseys retail at $259.99. Yowza. It made for one of the brighter Mondays in recent memory.