A true American tradition has become watching the super bowl that pits the two best football teams against each other in a media extravaganza. This tradition includes food and beverages that are consumed as we sit around our television screens as we watch the play by play action. In January 1985, I was station in Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea and Super Bowl Sunday the Chicago Bears vrs. New England Patriots that was going to be aired live to us in Korea on Monday Morning. What was that like, you ask. Well read this story and find out what it was like to watch this classic game Monday morning...
Super Bowl Monday: Bears vrs. Patriots
Due to the shape of the world and the man made time zones, there is a crooked line that traverses through the Pacific Ocean separating day from the next day called the International Date Line. On one side of the line it is today and on the other side of this line, it is tomorrow. The United States lies on the today side of this line while Korea is on the tomorrow side. I am a football fan and have been all of my life, but this today and tomorrow stuff was hard on the brain. Watching the regular Sunday games would be watching a lot of pre-recorded games where if we wanted to we could call back stateside to find out the final scores before the games aired on American Forces Korean Network (AFKN) in order to place friendly bets with friends. So you would sit around and watch games that were completed several days before. It was either that or go a year without football and that was not about to happen. There was one game and one game only that aired as live and that was the Super Bowl or ass we called it Super Bowl Monday, featuring the Chicago Bears with the Super Bowl shuffle and the New England Patriots with a very good, but very overmatched team. While the game was far from memorable due to the lopsided results, the events of that day I will never forget and here’s why.
Super Bowl Monday would mean I would have to get up around five in the morning, get dressed and go to the chow hall for breakfast where other groggy personnel would be huddled around their breakfasts getting ready to watch the kickoff. Talk was not about football however, it was about upcoming Team Spirit exercise where around ten thousand servicemen and women would descend on Republic of South Korea to exercise. Now exercise is not the physical activity to get one in shape, rather it is to plan active combat strategies in the event the North Koreans decided to launch an invasion like they did in 1950. My dad became part of the United Nation peacekeeping force that consisted most of American GIs. A few years before I had come as part of the Team Spirit deployment, lived in a tent, and nearly froze my keister off. What made me smile was the fact that when the new Team Spirit would roll around, I would already be stateside. On Super Bowl Monday, I was becoming a single digit midget. What this meant was, I could turn my mobility bag in with a copy of my Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders to Beale, AFB, CA. That chain would no longer be shackled to my leg. From what I gathered, I felt the base commander would call an alert right after the game with beer sloshing around the bellies of most of the spectators.
Kickoff would happen at Oh-600 in the morning. All snacks and beverages would be present along with enthusiastic fans dressed in both Bear and Patriot attire. For me, I had no affiliation to either team, but I leaned toward the Patriots, because of all that annoying Super Bowl Shuffle by the Bears. Realistically Steve Grogan and the Pats did not have a ghost of a chance against the Monsters of the Midway. Still miracles did happen in this game and I was praying for one.
My roommate had a big screen television and had planned three or four of his friends to join him. Walking back to the barracks, I could not wait for the mobility section to open so I could trade my bag and orders for a release document saying I did not have to tote around my bag anymore since I was a single digit midget. When I got to my room there were six people sitting around the television for the pregame show with everyone brandishing a beer in one hand and some chips in the other. My mobility bag was on top of my bed neatly packed and ready to turn in once and for all.
“Heard you are going to Northern California.” One of the guys chirped up.
“Already.” I checked my bag one more time before sitting in my chair to watch the game. Tomorrow, Tuesday, the movers would be coming to pack up my shit including the chair I was currently sitting in. In ten days, I would be traveling up to Osan Air Base for departure. I had to admit, I would miss some of the stuff I had become used to here on the Kun, but I was anxious to get home and resume a real life.
“Beer?” My roommate generously offered, but breakfast was still finding its way to my stomach and since I wasn’t much of a drinker, I felt wise to stick to water.
“I can’t wait till I’m a single digit midget.” Another of the guys spoke up.
“How long have you got?” My roommate made himself comfortable on his bed beer in hand.
“Oh, I’ve just went under 300 days.” He answered.
“Pahhh, you have a long time before you reach single digit.” Another of th crowd added a laugh.
“Duuuuddddeeee.” My roommate belched, “You got a long time to go in the Kun. “
“I know, but at some point, I will become a short-timer, too.” His face sagged and looked mournful.
It did not take long for the Bears to show their dominance as they scored a couple of times before the Patriots even knew the game had started.
“Go Ditka! Go Bears!” One of the crowd cheered wearing an official NFL Chicago Bear knit cap.
“Chizzy are you from the Windy City?” My roommate asked the Bear fan.
“Born and raised on the South Side.” Chizzy beamed.
“Another White Sox fan, I suppose.” He remarked.
“Look here bud, them is fightin’ words where I’m from.” He pointed his finger in a very threatening manner, “Go Sweetness.”
Sweetness was the name for Walter Payton, the star half back on the Bears offense. He had played for the Bears for many years, through thick and thin and was one of the really good guys in the league. It was easy to root for him even if the rest of his teammates were obnoxious like their Quarterback Jim McMahon. Actually as time went on and History was recorded, I would find him a good guy doing his best to win, but at this juncture, it didn’t matter. It was almost eight hundred hours when halftime came and the game was already over with the Bears winning in another Super Bowl rout. As the teams ran off the field for the locker rooms, only three of my roommate's friends were still awake and those who were still vertical were beginning to waver.
It was my chance. Halftime would be a snooze-o-rama and I would take my bag to the mobility section which opened at Oh-Eight Hundred. Hoisting my bag on my shoulder one last time, I was going on a brisk morning walk to the hangar where the Mobility Section operated out of. It was cold. A hint of ice was in the air, but my lungs welcomed the refreshing wintery air as I knew what waited for me at the end of my walk.
Half asleep, the sergeant at the door greeted me, “Hey there sarge, what can I do ya for?”
I let my bag hit the big counter with a thunk and smiled, “Wanna turn this in.”
“Orders?” He held out his hand. He was wearing a loosely fitting dirt stained field jacket and liner. I quickly handed him a copy of my paperwork. He squinted at my papers checking the date and other information for authentication. Nodding, he pulled out a form from his basket on the counter and filled it out. He handed it to me without ceremony, but at that moment I was free. I was free. I was truly free.
“Thanks.” I nearly saluted him with the release document he handed me.
“No-sweaty-dah.” He returned to his stool to continue his early morning nap.
The streets were empty. Everyone was watching the game somewhere inside. It was eerie walking these streets that were never empty in all the days I was here. A wind gusted up from the open area past the chow hall where you could almost catch a glimpse of the South China Sea. The grass was dried out and brown, shuddering with each gust of wind. Korea was a cold place in the winter. I was happy that I would be departing soon. What an adventure this had been. Not a single jet engine could be heard as even the pilots were watching the game on their television in their squadron room. Another blast of wind and I felt this must a penguin must feel like standing on the coast of the seventh de-humaned continent. Tears seem to crystalize in my eyes, but I was happy to have that slip of paper in my pocket.
Walking into the room, the television was blaring, but all seven spectators were now asleep with beers at various fullness in their hands. It was just nine hundred hours and we had been up for three to watch the live Super Bowl. Looking at the score, I saw I had missed nothing. I felt smug sitting in my collapsible chair as the only spectator still actually watching the game. By the fourth quarter most of the starters from both sides were sitting on the bench for what had become another Super blow out. I actually sat watching till the end, because it was the only live football I had seen all year. Even watching Lawrence Taylor shatter Joe Thiesman’s leg was pre-recorded. We got to view it long after it had happened. I missed watching football with my friends. It was a wake up to coming to Korea where television lived in a twilight zone of sorts and be able to watch this Super Bowl as it happened, even if it started at six in the morning.
By ten hundred hours the game was history and the Chicago Bears were celebrating with a Super Bowl Hustle of their own. I turned off the television and my roommate stirred. “What the heck.” He managed to mumble through his pillow.
“Game’s over.” I said as I laid down in my rack.
“Who won?” He wiped his face and put his glasses on.
“Who do you think. It just got worse as the game went on.” I sighed.
“Good. Didn’t miss anything then.” He smiled and stood up. “Gotta report to duty at noon. I’ll catch a shower and get cleaned up.”
“Should we wake them?” I asked indicating the five sleeping bodies strewn in front of the television.
“Naw let ‘em sleep.” He shook his head and exited. I figure he got about three steps before the alert horn sounded. The door opened, he walked in, “Son of a bitch.”
“Wha was that?” One of the guys stirred at the obnoxious sound.
“Whadda think, moron?” My roommate snapped putting his shower stuff in his open locker.
“Shit.” Groaned another.
“Hell of a thing to do in the middle of the night.” Another sounded.
“Middle of the night, it’s ten thirty.” My roommate remarked.
“Chrisssakes, I smell like a shit wagon.” One of them observed with a sniff.
“Chris, you don’t smell that good.” Chezzy added.
“Getcha bags boys.” My roommate announced. Glancing over at me, he asked, “Where’s your bag?”
I did not answer, just waved my paper in the air triumphantly.
“You are a dawg.” He groaned.
“OWWWOOO.” I howled like a short-timer was supposed to do.
“C’mon, let’s get our stuff.” Chezzy poked the kid next to him with his elbow. They left like a the New England Patriots had left the football field after the crushing.
“Gawd, I wish I had that paper.” My roommate sighed as he pulled his bag out of his locker.
“Yup, this is sure a lot lighter.” I smiled.
“Aw, stuff it.” He tossed his turtle shell at me and I caught it.
When we got to the Supply building, the rest of the weary crew filed in with their mobility bags like the one I had turned in over an hour ago. In fact one of the mobility checkers was the guy I had turned my stuff into.
“Lucked out.” He smiled as he saw me walk in empty handed.
“Thanks to you, bro.” I gave him a mock salute.
“I am a sucker for a happy ending.” He saluted back.
“Hey where’s your stuff, sarge?” The NCO in charge asked.
“I am cleared.” I declared pulling out my paper.
“Ah, so you are.” He sounded disappointed as he handed it back to me. “You are assigned to the bag unit in the warehouse. Since you are unchained, you will help that crew count and issue bags.”
The detail was really easier than it sounded since most of the military walking around already had their bags in tow. But in case we had to man the warehouse to make sure everyone had one. One of the guys assigned to the unit was already curled up in a stack of extra bags inside the unit.
“Gettin’ a beauty sleep.” One of the guys remarked.
“Good thing, looks like he really needs it.” We shared the laugh as I walked in to report to unit NCO who was in his office on the phone. Looking up, he waved me in as he continued to talk on the phone. “Yeah, all of my guys are here despite watching the game at that ungodly hour. Sheeiiittt, wasn’t good after the first quarter. Them Bears were too much for them poor Pats. Yeah. I’ll send one of my guys around with my manning report.” With that he hung up. As his eyes came up to meet mine, I could see how absolutely exhausted he was; his deep brown eyes glistened with tears from yawning.
“Welcome to the Bag Unit.” He spoke as if giving a formal greeting. “You and Bobbins will be working over there. I doubt there will be a lot to do, but you never know. Where’s your bag, sarge?”
Always asking about my absent bag, but I didn’t say a word as I handed him the paper. He looked at it and nodded his balding head. “Great. I’ll take you to Bobbins. He’s gonna break the seal and do an inventory. You are going to hold the clipboard as he calls out the stuff inside. I think you can handle that, right?”
“Sure can sarge.” I nodded.
“Figured, short-timer.” He gave me a quick smile before walking into his warehouse barking out orders to those standing idly around.
“Bobbins?” I asked a young airman poking inside a mobility bag.
“Yup. You must be the helper.” He said brightly.
“So Bobbins, what did you think of the game?” I asked trying to make a connection.
“I don’t like football.” He looked at me as though I was thick for not knowing that.
“Great.” I took the clipboard as he counted off the stuff in the bag he had opened.
“I just clip off the tag and open.” He showed me the process in a painfully slow demonstration.
“Kinda like poppin’ a cherry, right.” I winked, but immediately knew it was a wasted wink as he grimaced.
“Keep our minds out of the gutter, shall we?” He opened another bag and began listing off the contents as I checked them off on the clipboard.
The alarm sounded again and everyone in the warehouse began to dress in the chemical warfare ensemble except me. For the first time, I began to feel left out as I watched them dress as I had done for the past twelve months. Bobbins put his ensemble on as if he was in the dressing room of a high end men’s store, careful to make sure each item was fitted according to regulations.
“Where’s your stuff?” A man in a mobility helmet as he walked through the warehouse. These guys were from headquarters within earshot of the base commander from an office filled with blackboards and low lighting where every unit on base written in grease pencil in an undetermined language and numbers. They usually talked in whispers since most of the stuff they knew was top secret.
“Got released.” I said clearing my throat, because he appeared as if he could authorize me to dress even though I had turned in my bag. He took my paper and for a brief moment I was afraid he would ball it up and toss it on the floor, but instead he just nodded and handed me an index card. I took the card and read it:
You have been injured when the roof of this building collapsed. You have a broken leg and will be triaged.
I shrugged. I had never been presented with one of these cards. He smiled and nodded back, “The war is over for you sarge, but I have a unit of medics who need the practice.”
As he walked away three or four personnel in chemical warfare suits begin to shuffle toward me like some alien creatures of an Ed Wood movie. It was kind of creepy, to tell you the truth, but one of them told me to lie down on the stretcher. I could not hear what he or she was telling me, but he or she used explicit hand gestures. So I laid down on the stretcher. A minute later, I was hoisted off the ground and put in the back of a vehicle. One of the aliens spoke to the driver, who was also wearing the suit. The driver nodded and in a flash I was on my way to the medical unit.
When the door opened three more medics dressed in suits removed me from the back of the vehicle. I was waiting for Larry Gilbreath to yell cut and the rest of the cast of M.A.S.H. to appear. I groaned just for effect.
“Are you alright?” One of the stretcher bearers asked.
“Just playing the part.” I put my arms behind my head ready to enjoy the rest of the ride.
“We will have to decontaminate you.” Another told me.
“You were in the environment.” The first explained.
Wait a minute, this wasn’t fun anymore. Decontamination was a very heavy scrub of the skin and clothing. They carried me into an isolated room where there were more suited people waiting for me by huge plastic trash barrels filled with soapy water. The barrels were big enough to submerge me in if they wanted to. I was greeted by a doctor who removed his mask in order to speak to me.
“Hello son, we are going to simulate this procedure of scrubbing you, but I need my staff to go through this so if there is a real attack, we will know just what to do.” He smiled like my dad and I felt much better. I would be nothing more than a dummy for training purposes. Each of the team removed their masks and explained what they would do if this was a actual event. Once again, I put my hands under my head as they went through the simulation.
I stayed with my new buddies until twenty-two hundred hours when the siren sounded once again signaling the end of the exercise. I thanked them for saving my life as I walked from the medical unit. I patted my pocket and felt the crinkle of the paper I had used to escape the hell of the exercise.
My roommate was in the shower down the hall when I walked in feeling rested and at ease. Returning to the room wearing his towel, his face still red, he shook his head, “What the hell was that all about? Picking on us on Super Bowl Monday. That really sucks.”
“Yeah sucks.” I got comfortable in my rack before falling asleep.