The Breakdown: Afghan football |

The Breakdown: Afghan football

summit daily news
Summit County, Colorado
Sports editor Bryce Evans

It’s hard to run precise routes on the firm, rocky ground in Afghanistan. It’s even harder in military-issued boots. The sweltering heat, the stifling uniform – none of it helps your chances of scoring a touchdown.

But it’s not like anyone’s complaining. The only thing worse than the playing conditions would be not playing at all.

Two of my best friends have been in the Middle East for the better part of 2010 – or the worst part, depending on how you look at it. One’s in the Army, the other’s a Marine, and they’re in the same unit trolling around Afghanistan.

We all went to high school together, played sports together, and I got to see them for the first time in almost a year Friday in Denver. They’re on their two-week leave right now, and, in trying to keep it mellow, decided to take a trip from Minnesota (where we’re all from) to Denver (to see me and another buddy) to New York (to catch Saturday’s Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium), then back to Minnesota – all in a 72-hour span.

Between the jet lag and the, um, results of the night before, they were a bit under the weather Friday morning when I got down there. It felt more like a Saturday morning in college than a reunion, if you get what I mean. And just like back in those days, the talk was mostly about sports. Actually, talk might not be the right word; maybe arguing is better.

Either way, the point I’m getting at here is that we weren’t talking about what they do over there, and there wasn’t all that much conversation about what’s going on here, i.e. everything they’re not getting to do. And the only time they really brought up Afghanistan at all was in talking about their football games they play on the base.

They claim to be undefeated over the course of their tour, whether it’s been three-on-three, two-on-two or even some four-on-four games.

I’d say there’s a 50 percent chance this is true.

(Historical note: One of them quit football his junior year to join the swim team; the other was a receiver nicknamed “shoulder pads,” because, well, that’s where every pass hit.)

(Historical note No. 2: They were actually both good high school athletes, particularly as lacrosse players. And, yes, I’m mostly just saying that so they aren’t pissed at the last little jab.)

There’s no way to confirm their success (at least, stateside), and when it was doubted, er, questioned, they told me I should come cover a game. I’ve heard it’s a little tricky to get a press pass to their “league,” so I said I’d write a column about it instead.

I can’t really document how their games have gone – although one is claiming to be a “pass-rushing master,” and the other to be the best free safety in the Middle East – but I can confirm they have been playing, and that’s the point here.

I’m not going to pretend I have any clue what it’s like to serve your country during war, and I don’t think I could ever comprehend the type of life they live over there. But I think striving to find some sort of normalcy in times of struggle is a natural – and even therapeutic – route to take.

For them, while under constant stress that takes away hours of sleep each and every night, sports help to give that little bit of normalcy back.

While my buddies should be seen as heroes for serving our country, their checking up on to see how their heroes are doing on the field.

Luckily for them, and for all of us, really, a win is a win and a title is a title, whether you watch it from your couch in Summit County or your base in the Middle East.

And, a corner route is still a corner route, even if it’s run in 20-pound boots over jagged rocks.

For all the things that sports can do for people, I’m glad it can do this for two people that mean a whole lot to our country and a hell of a lot to me.

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