The face of a young united states marine appeared on the 23-inch screen. This was not new, certainly not, because the faces of various military figures had filled the screen for the past 11 days, around the clock. The difference was that this marine was in Tampa as part of a patriotic color guard. Super Bowl XXV had arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Live. At last.
"Look at that guy," shouted Major Jim Miller of Anaheim, Calif. "He must be the only serviceman left in the United States. Where'd they get him?"
"Must have bought him at an army-navy store," said Sgt. First Class Bob Norgren of Elmira, N. Y.
The time was 2 a.m. A pool had been started, not about how many points the New York Giants or the Buffalo Bills would score, but about how soon Saddam Hussein would send his first Scud missile of the night south from Iraq. The earliest guess was that Saddam would act precisely at kickoff, at 2:18 a.m. No one guessed that a missile would not come. Missiles come often. Mostly every night.
"Here are the updated standings," said Capt. Ed Cottingham of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., reading from a photocopied page, "from the Scud Control Office. Israel 17. Riyadh 13. Dhahran nine. Four have landed in the sea." Summing up his unofficial tally, he said, "We are still the favorite target in Saudi Arabia."
The edge had been taken off the terror of a week earlier, when the same men, officers all, had gathered in the same room as the warning sirens sounded. The men had not known what to expect that time. Would the Scud land on their heads? Would nerve gas or a biological menace creep underneath the door? Would this be a last breath, a last look at life? All of this was new. That night someone turned on the television. The men sat in their gas masks and chemical suits and shook and watched the second half of the Giants' 15-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Nothing bad happened. The missile was intercepted in the sky by two Patriot missiles. The men were Scud veterans now.
"We go up on the roof now to watch," said Major Larry Daniels of Baltimore County, Md. "It's the feeling that if the missile lands on top of you, there's nothing you can do about it anyway. We have another television up there with a VCR. We usually watch cowboy movies. Movies and missiles."
The Super Bowl kickoff arrived. The first loser was eliminated from the pool. No Scud.
The war between the allied forces and Iraq had settled into a surrealistic routine. The 11 days had somehow lasted forever. Surreal. That was the word that was repeated often. The ground forces faced off across the border of Kuwait. Anything could happen at any moment. The allied planes continued to bomb targets in Iraq. Saddam continued to send out his missiles haphazardly. Most of the Scuds were intercepted by the Patriots in ground-shaking explosions in the night sky.