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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Troops get to play in own New Year’s bowl with stars

Tim Reynolds Associated Press

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. Graham’s team was coached by Barry Switzer; Tommy Bowden coached the other side in the 8-on-8 game that will 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 went off without incident.

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