True field of battle has no yard lines


TAMPA, Fla. -- Control the celebration and the adulation. Let there be a limit to frivolity. The New York Giants won a football game, an enterprise staged for profit that is known as the Super Bowl.

But mute the noise. Minimize the cheers. Stifle the excitement. The bona fide heroes are 483,000 military men and women, wearing red, white and blue confined to the desert sands, air strips and ships riding the waters of faraway seas.

A 33-year-old halfback, Ottis Anderson, runs for 102 yards. Impressive. He gained vital yardage with his strong, deceptive stride, making excellent cuts at propitious moments, and, as a result was voted the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player.

But, of far more importance and not to be mentioned in the same breath, or sentence, is the contrast with an illustrious All-American Team that isn't playing games. It's involved in life-or-death combat.

Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos Morales, Bronx, N.Y., trained to be in the advance guard, is preparing to clear mine-infested fields for comrades in arms. Interviewed by a war correspondent, not a sportswriter, he said: "We all know there are going to be some casualties, some deaths. But we try not to think of it. We just try to live day to day."

A quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, didn't make a mistake and should have been declared the MVP instead of Anderson. He delivers a spiral to a receiver, Stephen Baker, for 14 yards and the Giants' first touchdown. Perfect in all aspects. Yet save your applause.

Satanic Saddam Hussein opens the valves to allow untold millions of gallons of crude oil to flow into the Persian Gulf and sets it on fire, while poisoning the environment, killing God's special creatures, fish and birds, plus contaminating the sea water that is no longer fit to drink.

A defensive end, Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills, avoids a blocker and smothers Hostetler, who tripped over Anderson's leg as he went back to set up. Smith is credited with a safety and acts as if he accomplished a notable achievement. His excessive demonstration, playing to the fans in the end zone, draws a 5-yard penalty.

Eric Wilp, a Marine combat engineer from Sunbury, Ohio, admitted, "I'm scared, but not as scared as I will be. Somehow we'll get the job done."

A linebacker, Lawrence Taylor, holds his position, waiting to react to a pass or a run, and finally drifts into his assigned coverage area and fulfills his responsibility by having, at that point, absolutely nothing to do but watch.

Marine Lance Cpl. Paul Vanek, Moulton, Texas, confides his innermost thoughts. "Everybody's scared, but everybody has their own way of dealing with it. There's nothing wrong with being scared."

A place-kicker, Matt Bahr, swings his leg in the direction of the goal post and the ball splits the uprights, not once, but twice, which contributes appreciably to the 20-19 Giants' win.

Lance Cpl. Gil Stainbrook, Clearwater, Fla., offered his thoughts on the impending confrontation of ground forces: "We kind of joke about it. It keeps us from going crazy, I guess. If you think about it every day, all day, it'll make you more nervous."

A mosquito-sized halfback, Dave Meggett, with more bounce to the ounce than could ever be imagined, carries the ball, finds an opening at left tackle and uses his speed to vanish for 17 yards. Voices thunder in appreciation.

Iraq missiles are fired in the direction of a neutral country, Israel, for no military reason but to expressly annihilate innocent human beings and create pain and anguish for those among the wounded. Explosives rain from the skies.

Coach Bill Parcells of the victorious Giants exclaims when it's over: "This is my greatest moment in football. Our team worked hard. We wanted to take time off the clock and hold the ball. You know, I don't know why God decided to bless Bill Parcells this way."

Staff Sgt. Daniel Kur, Detroit, utilizes the language of a man who knows the odds that are before him (and they aren't Buffalo and 6 1/2 points): "If you fail to find something right in front of you, any kind of a mine, you will buy the farm [be killed]."

A special teams player, Lee Rouson, runs down the field unchecked, slips between Bills and makes a tackle. He's hailed by hand-claps and strong embraces from jubilant mates.

Second Lt. Chris Simmler, Franklin, Mass., prepares to deal with an enemy that has dug in deeply to protect itself for when a land attack begins. "Each fortification could be miles deep with infantry and gun emplacements between them," he cautions.

A free safety, Mark Kelso, eager to hit, comes up to take on Anderson but gets a special introductory offer that all but sweeps him off his feet and gets him run over in the process.

The New York Giants win the Super Bowl, one of the best ever played, even if the end is decided on a 47-yard field-goal miss, with eight seconds left. It's the 25th in a series that has pomp and excessive production for the fun lovers who paid $150 a ticket to watch.

Meanwhile, the troops, the best of our young Americans, all volunteers and reservists, are in a far-off land, battle-ready, and aware their world could come to an end in a flash.

So let's hold applause. Football games of any proportion are a trivial pursuit -- hardly worthy of mention in the precarious balance that weighs between life and death in the line of duty.

Direct, instead more important and fitting respect to those who left cities, farms and points in between to fulfill the orders of their military calling. They are the epitome of unselfishness, of doing for others.

The Super Bowl pales by comparison. It's a mere exhibition of playful entertainment to be enjoyed and quickly forgotten. But war, with its scars and what it demands, makes an indelible imprint in the mind, heart and soul.

American units will not be compensated with gold, as in this thing called a Super Bowl, but, instead, a quiet kind of glory will be bestowed. For this, they have earned eternal gratitude . . . now and forever more.

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