TIKRIT, Iraq – It was the middle of the night for exhausted members of the 4th Infantry Division (search) as they watched the Super Bowl in the relative comfort of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in the dictator's hometown.
The game kicked off at 2:25 a.m. Monday Iraqi time. The troops of the 4th had to walk a half-hour from their living quarters in a steady to watch the game. Other soldiers watched it in mess halls and recreation centers across the country.
"I'm used to sitting on my La-Z-Boy with a beer, but this will do," said Sgt. Abelardo Gallegos, looking around at the chandeliers, ornately carved ceiling and marble floors in the palace in Tikrit (search).
The game between the New England Patriots (search) and the Carolina Panthers (search) provided a welcome diversion and a slice of home for many of the more than 100,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq, where deadly bombings, shootings and mortar attacks are a daily occurrence.
"Come on, let's do it! Let's get something going!" hollered Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Spruill, a native of Elizabeth City, N.C., as the Panthers tried to take the lead in the dying seconds.
The staff at the recreation center laid on platters of cold cuts, pizzas and onion rings. Military regulations prohibit beer on base, so troops had to make do with nonalcoholic beer and soft drinks.
Gallegos, from Vado, N.M. came straight to the game from guard duty at the base's perimeter fence. His M-16 rifle lay at his feet.
"I have never seen a Super Bowl like it," he said. While many in the crowd leaped to their feet each time there was a touchdown, the late hour got to some, who snoozed through the game on the back seats of the cinema.
"It makes me homesick to watch here, but my soldiers wanted to see the game," said Sgt. Lee Fleming, from Buffalo, N.Y. "It builds up their morale."
The game was broadcast live from Houston on the American Forces Radio and Television Service to battalion headquarters across Iraq.
In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division, the game was shown at battalion headquarters as well as at the cinema in the U.S. army recreation center — a three story lakeside palace built by Saddam.
The game was also available on the Internet. For those who didn't catch it live, many bases taped the game for replay later Monday.
Sgt. 1st Class Celeste Proctor, who was in charge of arrangements in Tikrit, said the night was not just about sport.
"It's about providing a bit of home environment for the troops," she said. "It's good for them."