DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 28 (MONDAY) -- A pretzel in one hand, a nonalcoholic beer in the other, Tech. Sgt. James Lee was ready for kickoff, wishing his Chicago Bears were playing. But he adopted the Buffalo Bills instead.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Morrison, a Bears fan in the Giants camp for this night, sat shoulder to shoulder with Staff Sgt. Doug Kline, a Buffalo fan for no other reason than that Bills quarterback Jim Kelly grew up in his native Pennsylvania.
There was bantering and boasting, and a few small bets too. But something was wrong.
Lee couldn't have the Budweiser he wanted, settling for a nonalcoholic Barbican. And comfortable dress was out; the 30 men at this Super Bowl party were ordered to wear bulky chemical protective suits and strap gas masks to their hips.
And most of the pregame speculation had nothing to do with the outcome.
The question? Would Saddam Hussein interrupt this Super Bowl party, a brief break from the Persian Gulf War for many of the half-million Americans deployed in the region, with a Scud missile attack?
"I think he will," said Lee, 22, an Air Force veteran.
The 30 weapons technicians for the fighter wing watched the game in a munitions bunker on a Saudi air base, standing or sitting on makeshift plywood benches not far from several stacks of missile cases.
The First Tactical Fighter Wing was here for the World Series, and many members of small group watching the game on Armed Forces Television predicted they might be here for another one too, and perhaps another Super Bowl.
"I hope not," Lee said. "But we're not going anywhere until the job is done."
Most men said they were happy the game was played. Cancellation would, they felt, have been a concession to Saddam.
"I think the people back home ought to go about business at usual, and we'll take care of business over here," said Kline, whose wife had a son five months ago -- a month after Kline came here.
Although they disagreed on whether the Bills or Giants would capture the National Football League title, every member of the group boasted of being a Patriot fan -- not the NFL Patriots of New England but the Patriot anti-missile system of the Army -- the front line of defense against Saddam's troublesome Scuds.
The missile attacks have brought many sleepless nights to the troops, who at every launch must don gas masks.
Few tried to hide their anxiety that a Scud might one day make it past the Patriots, perhaps carrying a gas or chemical warhead. But so frequent are the attacks that the men discuss them with a bit of humor, too.
"When I go to sleep I don't count sheep," Lee said. "I count Patriots."
So how had this Bears fan come to pick the Bills, on this night when the Giants had beaten them 20-19? Easy.
"I hear Saddam's a Giants fan."