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SO MUCH FOR `GLASNOST ON GRIDIRON’

SHARE SO MUCH FOR `GLASNOST ON GRIDIRON’

It started looking bad for the first Soviet football team to play on American soil when the players heard the Turkish national anthem played in their honor.

It went downhill from there.The year-old Tacoma Express, a Minor League Football System team, whipped the Soviet national champion Moscow Bears 61-0 Monday night in an exhibition game before 1,303 spectators in the Tacoma Dome.

The game was billed by promoters as "Glasnost on the Gridiron."

Bears coach John Ralston, a former Denver Broncos head coach, and also a former Utah State head coach,didn't talk game strategy or give his players a fiery pre-game pep talk. He was busy explaining how to suit up in full pads.

"Don't forget, you need your thigh pads, your knee pads and your elbow pads," he said through an interpreter. "You don't want to land on that AstroTurf without your elbow pads."

For the past eight weeks, Ralston has been trying to mold a group of Soviet rugby players, shot-putters, javelin throwers and decathletes into a professional football team. He knows after Monday night he still has a ways to go.

"I'm disappointed in our fundamentals," he said after the game. "I don't think we do the fundamentals very well."

The team is playing four American exhibition games arranged by the International Sports Connection, a sports promotion company based in Gadsen, Ala. Besides Tacoma, the team will play in Fresno, Calif.; Oklahoma City and Macon, Ga., with a possible match in Charlotte, N.C.

The starting quarterback first touched a football seven months ago, and he's the team's veteran. Ralston's biggest player tips the scales at 250 pounds.

Ralston had said he mainly wanted to ensure his players finished the game intact - especially his starting tight end, since both backups had been detained in the Soviet Union by the KGB the night before departure.

The Bears suffered no major injuries.

The anthem mixup wasn't the only glitch. Fans found their programs carried no numbers for the Soviet players. The announcer searched in vain for starting lineups while waiting for a Soviet interpreter who never got to the booth. She stayed on the field to relay Ralston's play calls and other assignments.

"I had a dream three weeks ago that I was calling a football game and that I didn't know the players or what was going on. The dream came true. What a nightmare!" said Tim Harrington, a play-by-play announcer for KKMO, a Tacoma radio station.

When it came time for national anthems, the Soviets appeared stunned when they heard the selection played for them.

Express officials discovered their mistake while the American anthem was being sung. Fans and players then stood a third time to listen to the real Soviet anthem.

The Bears won the coin toss, then saw Tacoma build a 13-0 lead after one quarter and a 34-0 advantage by halftime.

With the Express leading 48-0 after three quarters, the fans began to chant: "Go, Bears!"

The Express scored its final touchdown on Pat Patterson's 32-yard romp as time expired. No conversion was attempted.

Ralston, who coached the Denver Broncos from 1972 to 1976, said earlier it may be competition, or a lack of it, that will ultimately keep his players from excelling.

"They don't understand competition because they don't have that sort of thing," he said. "In the work force, they're paid a certain rate and there's no incentives in the whole Communist system. There's no incentive for being better than somebody else. There's no competition, and that hurts."

Until this week, the players were outfitted in whatever castoff equipment they could find, Ralston said.

But thanks to American corporate sponsors who have donated 100 pairs of shoes and enough helmets and pads for the whole team, the Bears will return to Moscow as well dressed as most minor league American teams.

The Bears will next play on Wednesday in Fresno, Calif.