USS GUNSTON HALL, OFF THE COAST OF Va. --
Its Super Bowl Sunday, Marines and Sailors aboard the ship are crammed into offices, gyms, living areas, the chow hall … basically anywhere with a television so they can watch the game. The weather outside is stormy; waves push the ship to and fro. Objects slide on desks, and troops walking through the ship’s passage ways often must brace themselves to retain their balance. No one seems phased. The awesome glow of the television broadcasting the game captivates them. For four quarters and a halftime show, a number of Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Gunston Hall with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group gain something profound – a break from their Certification Exercise (CERTEX), their final training exercise before deployment, to enjoy something wholly American. Before the game There is no shortage of trash talk between the servicemembers. Marines and Sailors split into groups: New York Giants fans and New England Patriots fans. An “us and them” mentality emerges; the troops recount and retell stories of previous games throughout the season. They make bets, some simple and sound like a change in hairstyle, others outrageous; a testimony to their fandom. “I bet my lance corporals I would do all their work for a day if the Giants won,” said Cpl. Matthew Bear, a motor transportation operator with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU. “Vehicle startups, check fluids, clean trucks, or any stuff that came up, I would do it.” First Quarter Marines and Sailors pack tightly into a lounge area near a Marine living space on ship. Excitement emanates from the Marines and Sailors as the game begins. The Giants defense rushes in at Tom Brady, he throws the football. Flag on the play! The Patriots receive a penalty for intentional grounding. It costs them five yards and results in a safety. Two points for the Giants. The early mistake by the Patriots sends the Giants fans into a smack-talking frenzy. “How did they even make it to the Super Bowl?” shouts one Marine. “We got them!” cries another.
The Patriots fans remain hopeful. The Giants score a touchdown and the extra point. The first quarter breezes by. The Marines and Sailors can hardly believe how fast it went by.
The Score: Patriots 0, Giants 9.
Second Quarter In the lounge, the Marines hang on the edge of their seats. The Patriots score a field goal and Patriots fans visibly begin to regain their confidence. Patriot’s Danny Woodhead runs it in, in the last 15 seconds of the quarter, bringing the game to a tie. Sgt. Gamamuel Jean, a squad leader with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, explodes from his chair.
“Yea!” the Boston, Mass., native shouts.
The Patriots score the extra point.
The Score: Patriots 10, Giants 9. Half Time The Marines and Sailors disburse from their areas. Some dash to the bathroom, others to catch a breath of fresh air and almost all of them feverishly talk about the game. It is a close one, and they can feel it. So close, many troops begin trying to renege on their pledges, while the more confident fans try to inflate them. “I was a little bit shaky at first with the first safety by Tom Brady, but I was pretty confident they would be able to pull thorough,” said Sgt. Anthony Francisco, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Engineer Platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU. “I was a little scared, but we came through with that sweet touchdown.” “I was not expecting that at all,” said Pfc. Jason Otero, a machine gunner with C Co., BLT 1/2, 2nd MarReg, 24th MEU. “But I still have my money on the Giants.” Third Quarter In the ship’s primary chow hall, Marines and Sailors fill almost every seat. Excitement resumes, and heightens. The chow hall serves ice cream. Otero and Pfc. Mike Fort, a teamleader with C Co., BLT 1/2, 2nd MarReg, 24th MEU, burst into a fit of excitement and begin banging wildly on the table. “Ohhh!” they both shout as Giant’s Ikem Nicks gets tackled. The Patriots score another touchdown and get the extra point. The Giants score a field goal. The Score: Patriots 17, Giants 12. Fourth Quarter The tension in the room intensifies, and emotions run high. Every play results in an overly boisterous celebration or dismay. Marines and Sailors often leap from their chairs, slap hands, shout and grimace. The Giants score a field goal. Then the unthinkable happens. The Giants have the ball. They run the clock before scoring a touchdown. They go for the two point conversion, the Patriots stop them. There’s just under a minute left on the clock. The Patriots need a touchdown to win, and they need it bad. “It’s over,” shouts one Marine. Tom Brady throws the ball, the receiver drops it. Pfc. Nathanael Eichorn’s, a squad automatic weapon gunner with C Co., face twists into a grimace. He dramatically contorts his body in disbelief. Simultaneously, Lance Cpl. Alexander Solares,’ a rifleman with C Co., arms shoot out into the air and he lets out a loud cheer. The Patriots push into the endzone. There is mere seconds on the clock and the Patriots are close to a touchdown. Some Marines and Sailors stand up and inch toward the television. Everyone leans forwards and stares intently. The ball is thrown, and the receiver drops it. The crowd erupts into fits of celebration and disbelief. The Giants win! The final score: Patriots 17, Giants 21. After the game, the trash talk resumed and excessive celebrations took place. The Marines and Sailors again disbursed, this time to return to their work areas and do something else wholly American – training to preserve our freedoms.