Commentary

Veterans are sports fans, too

Originally Published: November 13, 2009
By Kieran Darcy | Page 2

Thank God it's Friday, right?

Sports fans are gearing up for yet another big weekend. The World Series is over, but we've still got plenty to look forward to. The first weekend of the college basketball season … a solid slate of college football … all the NBA and NHL action we can handle … and a Sunday chock-full of NFL games, capped off by the fabulous Colts-Patriots matchup Sunday night.

We don't know how lucky we are.

Every day this week on Page 2, we've featured a story on a prominent former pro athlete who also served in the United States armed forces. Ralph Kiner shared his memories of being a Navy pilot in World War II. Rocky Bleier detailed his journey from being seriously wounded in Vietnam to becoming a Super Bowl champion. Gino Marchetti spoke about how joining the Army turned his life around and enabled him to play in the NFL. Bob Feller blessed us with the story of how he became the first major leaguer to enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Northeast Light Photography">[+] EnlargeJoseph Engro
Northeast Light PhotographyJoe Engro playing softball with some of his Navy buddies.

Today we wanted to give you a glimpse into the life of someone more like you and me -- a sports fan.

Allow me to introduce you to Joseph Engro.

Joe, 32, is a Chief in the United States Navy, and has been on active duty for 13 years now. He has been attached to two submarines, the USS Dallas and the USS Miami, including five deployments. And six weeks ago he began serving his first deployment on the ground, in Iraq, as a Fire Control Technician.

Joe also happens to be a die-hard Phillies fan. Being a Yankees fan, I tried to go easy on him about the World Series when I spoke with him via phone earlier this week.

"Yeah, very disappointing loss," Joe admitted. "If I would have been home, I'd have definitely tried to make one of those games."

Unfortunately for Joe, he was eight time zones away. But I was happy to hear he was able to watch some of the World Series games on TV. Through AFN (American Forces Network), our troops are able to watch games or at least catch highlights during their free time. "You're able to keep up and stay pretty current," Joe told me. "Games are always on in the chow hall. And ESPN is always on, running through the scores."

Joe, who grew up in Norristown, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, keeps an eye on all the Philly teams. In fact, he's found a small group of fellow Philadelphia sports fans over there in Iraq that he gets together with to watch games. "It's definitely a morale booster," he said. "It's a nice break, getting to watch a game and cheer with your friends."

Joe also mentioned that the troops get some Internet access, which helps them stay updated as well. Some soldiers he knows are even playing fantasy football.

On a submarine, though, it's a whole 'nother story. Unless the sub is pulled up to a pier, or close to the surface and able to pick up things via antenna, you're pretty much in the dark when it comes to news and communications.

Joe did share with me a fun story about how he spent Super Bowl Sunday back in 2006. He was serving on the USS Miami at the time, so he wasn't able to watch the game between the Steelers and Seahawks. However, he happened to be serving as Chief of the Watch while the game was being played. The sub was at periscope depth at the time, so it was able to pick up a radio signal. "I was able to announce different highlights [via microphone] -- when TDs were scored, etc. -- to keep everybody updated," Joe said. "There were a few Pittsburgh fans on the ship, all sitting up, waiting to hear what happens. So that was a lot of fun."

Remind me never to get mad when the picture freezes up on my big-screen TV again.

[+] EnlargeSoldiers watching football
David Furst/AFP/Getty ImagesSoliders get to relax and watch a game every now and then.

It's going to be 8-12 months before Joe finishes this deployment and is able to return home to his family, friends, and his pair of 2-year-old Labrador retrievers. In the meantime, he'll be just one of tens of thousands of American servicemen and servicewomen stationed around the globe, working to protect us and keep us safe.

And when he gets a free moment, like many of the other troops, Joe will be trying to keep up with his favorite sports teams. With the World Series over, he's turning his attention to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"It's great when you get to watch a game [here], because you know your family's at home watching," Joe said. "And then when you talk to them, you've seen the game, so you can really talk about it with them, just like home.

"It just helps you make that connection."

Almost makes this Giants fan want to root for the Eagles.

Kieran Darcy is an editor for Page 2. You can reach him at kieran.d.darcy@espn3.com.

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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