Staff Sgt. Cecil Graham plays for a championship flag football team on an American military base in Iraq. The reward, he said, was "unforgettable.”
Graham was among a group of U.S. soldiers who spent New Year’s Day on their base in Baghdad, playing a game alongside college football greats such as Ty Detmer and Tony Casillas, the former Oklahoma standout. Graham’s team was coached by former OU coach Barry Switzer; Tommy Bowden coached the other side in the 8-on-8 game that’ll be aired during halftime of Monday night’s Fiesta Bowl. "We have to keep going over here,” Graham, of Roanoke, Va., said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after the game. "A lot of people don’t know what we go through over here. A lot of people have their own assumptions. But like coach Switzer and Tony said, to know that people at home have our back, it’s a blessing. It’s unforgettable.” Unforgettable for Switzer and Casillas, too — for many reasons, one of them perhaps more memorable than others. Casillas said warning sirens telling everyone to "get down” blared three times Thursday night, a reminder of the constant dangers in that particular part of the world. "That was surreal,” Casillas said. The game, sponsored by Tostitos as part of the Fiesta Bowl and held in coordination with the USO, went off without incident. "I take home more respect than I’ve ever had before for the discipline, the respect they showed for us and themselves,” Switzer said after the game.