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CAMP TAJI, Iraq — When New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs plowed into Washington safety LaRon Landry in the first quarter, Staff Sgt. Tom Smarr leaped out of his chair.

"Oh, he just got run over!" the soldier said, laughing. "This game is going to be over before the third quarter."

Smarr, a soldier with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, said he didn’t really care how Thursday’s NFL opener turned out. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, he was rooting against both teams.

"But I don’t have work tomorrow morning, and I wanted to see the game," he said. "So that’s why I’m up in the middle of the night."

Watching the first NFL game of the season in Iraq posed problems for many fans stationed here, with a local kickoff time of 2 a.m. and limited access to TV sets with AFN. But the most die-hard fans found ways to get their football fix.

Capt. O.Z. Henry Jr., a member of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Division’s Charlie Company, said he found one soldier in his unit with a TV with good reception in a quiet room just a few yards from his barracks. It looked like the perfect solution.

"But he was a Patriots fan," said Henry, a lifelong Miami Dolphins fan. "I stopped in and asked him how he liked those champion Giants, but I couldn’t stay there and watch with him."

So instead Henry walked halfway across camp to join Smarr and a few early-morning stragglers in Camp Taji’s main MWR building, where a 40-inch flat-screen usually reserved for news updates was quietly switched over just before the coin toss.

The men quickly moved from the game at hand to the typical Sunday afternoon arguments they’d have at home: whether Barry Sanders was better than Emmitt Smith, why Dan Marino never won a championship, how the Cardinals could be so bad for so many years.

Both men choked when Giants DE Jerome McDougle ran into the Redskins punter in the first quarter, and both let out a small cheer when WR Santana Moss slid into the end zone just before the first half ended.

"Now it’s a game again," Henry said. "There’s more to watch."

Henry said he had an early morning shift, but he was willing to sacrifice a good night’s sleep to see the game.

"I just needed to watch some football," he said.


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