Berry Tramel

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Switzer connects with troops in Iraq

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 3:15 pm •  Published: January 5, 2010

Barry Switzer is back from Iraq and a USO tour sponsored by Tostitos in conjunction with the Fiesta Bowl. Switzer coached a flag football game on New Year’s Day, stayed in one of Saddam’s palaces and took cover when rocketfire struck near his base. Best of all, Switzer got to mingle with American troops. He is tired and worn out. But he’s awfully glad he went.

“It’s such a great feeling of knowing we’ve got our best over there,” Switzer said Tuesday during my segment with Jim Traber and Al Eschbach on The Sports Animal. “There is no dissension. They are all together, getting this thing done. It was a great experience. Made me feel great about the people over there.”

Team Liberty huddles as troops watch in front of MRAP's during the first-ever Tostitos/USO “Salute the Troops” Bowl, where legendary college football players played alongside troops in Baghdad, Iraq, January 1, 2010.  Team Freedom, led by coach Barry Switzer, beat Team Liberty which was led by coach Tommy Bowden.     ORG XMIT: 1001042350042901
Team Liberty huddles as troops watch in front of MRAP's during the first-ever Tostitos/USO “Salute the Troops” Bowl, where legendary college football players played alongside troops in Baghdad, Iraq, January 1, 2010. Team Freedom, led by coach Barry Switzer, beat Team Liberty which was led by coach Tommy Bowden. ORG XMIT: 1001042350042901

Switzer and Tommy Bowden coached teams that included former football greats and current American military personnel. Former Sooners Joe Washington, Tony Casillas and Brian Bosworth were on Switzer’s team, which beat Bowden’s team 36-8 at Camp Liberty.

Switzer and Co. donned armor and head gear when taking a C31 to Iraq from Kuwait City. During a pep rally the day before the game, the incoming rockets were heard. “I looked around, and everybody hit the deck,” Switzer said. “So I got down.” Switzer estimated seven or eight rockets hit about a mile away. He said he could feel the vibration of the building. No one was killed but some were injured.

“I damn sure know I was shot at,” Switzer said.

Switzer visited with Gen. David Petraeus. Switzer said Saddam had a bunch of palaces built all over Iraq. “Nice-looking, but the construction wasn’t that good,” Switzer said. “The J.W. Marriott in Phoenix, I promise you, is better.”

Switzer roomed with Bowden. They were able to watch American bowl games, though some were in the middle of the night. Bowden watched them all, Switzer said. “He’s a vampire; stayed up all night. I couldn’t do it.”

The game was eight-man flag football. Switzer said his team won for two reasons. 1. He had the better quarterback, Ty Detmer, BYU’s 1990 Heisman Trophy winner; Bowden countered with Tennessee’s Tee Martin and Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier. “Tommie Frazier weighs 280 pounds,” Switzer said. “He’s too big. He can’t run like he used to.” 2. Switzer had two soldiers who were big and could run. Detmer kept throwing them long passes.

Switzer said he drew up plays on cards. “My cards were better,” Switzer said. He played Casillas at tackle, Bosworth at tight end Washington at slotback. Bosworth caught two touchdowns from Detmer.

I visited with Casillas before he went, and he was fired up. “I’ve been touched by people who have been over there,” Casillas said. “Never thought I would have an opportunity to go. I’m really excited. Exciting time to visit our troops. Gives them a good distraction from the day-to-day rigors of fighting a war.  It’s such a grind what they do. This gives them something they can look forward to. Kind of passes time away.”

Casillas said he jumped aboard as soon as he heard Switzer was involved. “He’s been able to do a lot of things, reach people’s lives,” Casillas said. “To go over and spend  actual time with him and guys I know, should be a great time.”

Casillas is right. My son-in-law spent almost a year on duty in Iraq, most of 2008. Boredom was his No. 1 problem. Casillas has a cousin who has served in Iraq. “Everyone is touched by this one way or another,” Casillas said. “This is a small part for me to show my appreciation.”

Casillas actually played flag football last spring, in an alumni game before the OU Red-White game. “I actually was OK,” Casillas said. “I still keep myself in shape.  But I know my limitations.”

Highlights of the flag game were shown at halftime of the Fiesta Bowl on Monday night, and Tostitos presented the USO with a check for $200,000.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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