EINE KLEINE NFLMUSIK

Pro football scaled a wall of unfamiliarity by staging an exhibition game before a crowd of ardent Berliners
August 19, 1990

Werden Sie Bei Breiten Schultern schwach? (Translation: Do you get weak when you see broad shoulders?)

Wo wedeln die Frauen mit ihren Puscheln? (Translation: Where do women wave their pushies?)

Wo spielen 22 Männer mit einem Ei? (Translation: Where do 22 men play with one ball?)

Wo kunn man 160 Millionen für 10 Mark laufen sehen? (Translation: Where can you see 160 million marks running for 10 marks?)

Those were just some of the questions that were being posed on posters plastered all over Berlin last week as the National Football League airlifted a preseason game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams into that symbolic city. (The translations were provided by the German advertising agency that handled the promotion, so please don't write in.)

Last Saturday night's game in the historic Olympic Stadium was the fourth, final and most fascinating game of the NFL's American Bowl '90 series, which featured games in three other foreign cities. It posed yet another question: Can a soon-to-be-reunited land in which the Wall just came tumbling down, and from which Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Katarina Witt and the World Cup champions hail, find a place in its heart for an exhibition game of professional football? Let's face it, the man in the Strasse doesn't really much care whether Steve Pelluer or Steve DeBerg quarterbacks the Chiefs this year.

Yet Berliners, East and West, did take to the game. A crowd of 55,000 saw the Rams beat the Chiefs 19-3, placing Berlin ahead of Montreal (28,000) and Tokyo (48,000) and behind only London (63,000) in attendance at the NFL's international venues this summer. Although there were a great many U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in the stands, one could tell that the spectators were predominantly German because they whistled rather than booed the stalled Kansas City attack, and because they cheered wildly every time the Rams' and Chiefs' cheerleaders waved their pushies, or, to give the German ad agency the benefit of the doubt, their pom-poms. To borrow another of the promotional slogans, Ach du dickes Ei! Colloquially, that means Oh, boy! Literally, it's Oh, you fat egg!

To get that fat egg to Berlin required a mini-Berlin airlift. The Rams brought 340 people and the Chiefs 375, and then there was the equipment. "It's no easy thing shipping goalposts," said Jim Steeg, the NFL's executive director of special events. The league brought in 25 people, counting the world-champion whistler and the owners of Frisbee-catching dogs, all part of the pregame entertainment. "Those are the acts we usually turn down for the Super Bowl," said Steeg.

Why did the NFL go to all this trouble—and expense—to take its act to Berlin? Well, the league is seriously thinking about international markets, which have already proved to be fertile ground for the NBA. The World League of American Football, a minor league for the NFL, is scheduled to kick off next March in, among other possible locales, Barcelona, Milan, Mexico City, Frankfurt, Orlando, Fla., and New York City. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told reporters last week that an NFL team in London is possible before the year 2000.

The first NFL game in Germany, indeed the first on the Continent, was supposed to have been played in Frankfurt, but the profound political evolution of the two Germanys within the past year suddenly made Berlin an attractive option. Then there was the significance of Olympic Stadium. It was there 54 years ago this month that Jesse Owens gave his magnificent performance before Adolf Hitler in the '36 Games.

The NFL has even begun to talk about a game in Moscow, and Rams' owner Georgia Frontiere said she will volunteer her team for that assignment, too. Said Ram linebacker Frank Stams, "Get drafted by the Rams and see the world."

Tagliabue said that teams are now fighting for the chance to go overseas. Said Kansas City head coach Marty Schottenheimer: "My guys are asking me if we can come to Berlin every year. I have a feeling, though, that having no curfew has something to do with that."

Even though Los Angeles is Berlin's sister city, the Chiefs could have claimed to be the true home team. Kansas City's John Alt, an offensive tackle, and place-kicker Nick Lowery, the NFL's alltime field goal-kicking percentage leader, were born in Stuttgart and Munich, respectively. Alt was two months old when his parents—his father was in the U.S. Army, and his mother was from Stuttgart—moved to the States. Lowery's father, Sidney, worked for the CIA in Munich and later in Bonn, so Nick had two separate stints in West Germany before pro football allowed him to bring his parents back with him.

Another Chief, quarterback Mike Elkins, wasn't the first member of his family to play football in Olympic Stadium. In 1946, his father, Jack, then an Army sergeant stationed in Germany, played offensive and defensive end on the Continental Base Section team that defeated the Berlin Command 14-12 in the European championship. "It's extraordinary to see the changes," said the elder Elkins, who came from Greensboro, N.C., to Berlin for last week's game.

So much has happened in such a short time in Berlin. Schottenheimer, whose grandfather is from Gelsenkirchen, near Düsseldorf, said, "The events of the past year didn't hit home to me until I visited what was left of the Wall the other day. There were crosses there to commemorate people who had died trying to escape from the East to the West, with dates, and one of the dates was in 1989. It was unsettling to think how close that person had come to freedom."

While the trip was a great learning experience for many of the players, it was also something of an education for the Germans. Said Irv Pankey, the 134-kilogram (295-pound) offensive tackle for the Rams, "We'd be walking down the streets and people would be staring at us like we were some sorts of monsters. But then we'd smile and say, 'How ya doin'?' and suddenly we weren't monsters anymore. We were people."

The significance of recent events in Berlin made the ordinary tasks of preseason—getting in tune and winning jobs—seem trivial, but the Rams and Chiefs did get some work done. On three of the six days they practiced, they also scrimmaged one another, and scrimmages against unfamiliar opponents are particularly useful at this stage of the season.

Most of the afternoons and evenings were free for extracurricular activities. On Tuesday evening the Chiefs rented out a huge boat that took the team along the Havel River to Potsdam. On Wednesday afternoon local German amateur football teams were invited to a clinic run by Ram defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur. (Belying his name, Shurmur is not German. "I'm Polish, Irish and English," he says.)

Thursday night the kickers and punters from the Chiefs and Rams were invited to participate in a kicking contest at halftime of a soccer game between Hertha of Berlin and St. Pauli from Hamburg. What they didn't know, though, was that they were participating in a frog-kicking contest. No, they did not kick frogs, nor did they do the frog kick. From about 10 meters away they had to kick a soccer ball at a huge plaster Frosch (frog), a symbol for both the Hertha fans and a new radio station in town. If a kicker hit the frog, 200 deutsche marks was donated to youth soccer by the radio station.

On Friday the commissioner and several players visited the Wall, or that part that hasn't been chipped away and sold for souvenirs. Berlin was also a nice public relations showcase for Tagliabue, who has more of a common touch than did his predecessor, Pete Rozelle. He freely chatted with Pankey, Ram guard Duval Love and the Chiefs' star running back, Christian Okoye. At one point, Tagliabue asked Pankey where he went to school. Pankey replied Penn State, and Tagliabue said, "Oh, your coach taught you a little about values, didn't he?" "I'm learning some values this week, too," Pankey said.

In the meantime, the publicity machine for the big game was hard at work. Among the other promotional stickers seen around town were Immer schön am Ball bleiben (Keep up-to-date, stay on the ball), Ich mag breite Schultern (I like broad shoulders), Ei wo fliegt's denn? (Oh boy, where is it [the ball] flying to?) and I Love Football (I Love Football). The print media is a good deal more suggestive in Germany than it is in the U.S., and the newspapers were filled with stories stressing the sex appeal of pro football and, almost as important, pro football cheerleaders. A caption for a picture of a male cheerleader holding up a female cheerleader read Schöooone Aussichten (Beeeeautiful Views). As for the players, Jim Everett, the Spielmacher of the Rams, was described as a "blond sunnyboy who can throw a ball 70 meters and always has a smile on his lips."

The first inkling that the game would be a success came at 1 a.m. on Saturday, when people began lining up for tickets. By 10 a.m. there were lines at all 10 ticket windows. An all-day festival was held in conjunction with the game. By midafternoon there were long queues in front of the tents that were selling food and drink on the fields adjacent to the stadium. On one of the fields, the Frisbee dogs drew a bigger crowd than the subsequent practice game between the Düsseldorf Panthers and the Berlin Eagles.

Shortly after the gates to Olympic Stadium were opened, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas was presented with a flag in memory of his father, Air Force captain Robert Thomas, who was shot down in Vietnam in 1972, when Derrick was five. It occurred during an operation called, ironically, Linebacker II. Before the Rams and Chiefs took the field, Tagliabue addressed the two teams, thanking the players for representing themselves so well, and reading a message from President Bush. In part, the message read: "It gives me great pleasure to know that, in the city that has so dramatically been made whole and free, a mission of goodwill, friendship and just plain fun will show that the best place for rivalry is on the playing field."

The game couldn't help but be anticlimactic, and unfortunately both teams had a hand in that. Neither of the Chiefs' quarterbacks, Elkins or Pelluer (DeBerg didn't play), could move the ball, but then Okoye ran only twice. The Rams' defense, meanwhile, provided most of the team's offense. Linebacker Mike Wilcher's interception deep in Chiefs territory set up a short TD drive at the end of the first quarter, with sunnyboy Everett, a smile on his lips, throwing six yards to Buford McGee for the score. In the final minutes of the game, Alfred Jackson intercepted a Pelluer pass on the Kansas City 31 and returned it for a touchdown.

Still and all, the crowd had a good time. The fans even did the Welle—you know, the Wave. Once they whistled at a call after it was shown on Sofortwiederholung (instant replay). And they showed much better manners than American fans, waiting until the end of the game to leave. In a way, the exhibition was much like West Germany's 1-0 victory over Argentina in the World Cup final. Both games were boring, and neither was representative of its sport's appeal.

A young woman from Würzburg, in Bavaria, Simone Pander, told SI's Anita Verschoth, "This football is wonderful because nobody is drunk and everybody is having a good time. It's very American. All temptations for all senses." Two young men from East Berlin gave American football a mixed review. "The atmosphere is super, but the game drags a bit," said Timo Liebenthal. Asked if he would go to another game, Andre Urban said, "On a day when there is no soccer."

One East Berliner watching her first game was Witt, who didn't exactly go weak at the sight of men with broad shoulders. But she did tell Verschoth, "I find the strength of the men fascinating. Those big men, how fast they run. This football is a bit brutal, but they are well padded."

Witt added, "I think it's funny when the ball falls to the ground and they are all looking to see where it is going."

Oh, you fat egg.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERThe Chiefs' Alt (left) and Lowery pried loose some souvenirs on their return to Germany. THREE PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERLove (right) fared better on the barter market than Pelluer did on the field. On the sideline, Witt found the scene "fascinating." TWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERThomas received a flag in memory of his father after the festivities outside the stadium. TWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERThe fans displayed U.S.-style banners and a remarkable enthusiasm for doing the Wave.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)