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PLAYERS DON’T LIKE HAVING TO GO TO OTHER COUNTRIES FOR GAMES

SHARE PLAYERS DON’T LIKE HAVING TO GO TO OTHER COUNTRIES FOR GAMES

Mud in Mexico City, jet lag in San Diego and River Falls, Wis.

While a six-figure crowd justifies the NFL's American Bowl overseas junkets for owners, a lot of NFL players would prefer "American Bowls" back in the USA."They are wonderful people here, but no, I don't think I'd like to play here, I'll just stay in America," running back Gary Brown of Houston said after Monday night's 6-0 win by the Oilers over the Cowboys in Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.

A pregame downpour turned the field into a quagmire.

For the NFL, the game was a qualified success - the crowd of 112,376 broke a 47-year-old NFL record. The old mark was 105,840 for a single game, set in 1947 when the Bears played the College All-Stars at Chicago's Soldier's Field.

But the field was in such bad shape after a week of rain and a downpour during warmups that Dallas coach Barry Switzer backed off his intention to play Emmitt Smith for fear of a pulled hamstring or worse. Brown, the Houston version of Smith, played the first quarter, turned an ankle on his first play, but returned.

"We haven't had this much interest in the playing conditions of a preseason game since the Chicago Bears played the Frankford Yellowjackets in farmland in Peoria back in the '30s," Joe Browne, the NFL's vice-president for communications, said Tuesday after fielding a barrage of calls about the playing conditions in the internationally televised game.

To compound things, neither team got home until dawn, although flying time from Mexico City to Texas is under two hours. That's because Houston's luggage was loaded on Dallas' charter and vice versa, and because the Cowboys had to fly into San Antonio instead of their training base at Austin in order to clear customs.

Those kinds of problems have made "American Bowls" a mixed blessing for the NFL - whether in Tokyo, London, Berlin, Barcelona or Mexico City.

On the one hand, the games usually draw big crowds and expose the league first-hand in places it wouldn't be otherwise seen.

On the other, it leaves teams jet-lagged and players and coaches testy. Members of the Kansas City Chiefs, for example, could barely get out of bed the day after they returned from Tokyo to River Falls. Ironically, the game in Tokyo was against Minnesota, which trains just 50 miles away in Mankato, Minn.

So, while owners like San Francisco's Edward DeBartolo Jr. and San Diego's Alex Spanos clamor to be chosen, coaches tend to avoid them. Bill Parcells declined several times to take the Giants, and Joe Gibbs took the Redskins reluctantly.

An exception is Dan Reeves, who's been overseas four times - three with Denver and last weekend in Berlin with the Giants.

"I just think it's a positive experience to represent the NFL in these games," Reeves says.

Reeves has it fairly easy this year - other than the trip to Berlin, the Giants travel no farther than Pittsburgh for an exhibition; they have two home games plus a "road" game this week at Giants Stadium against the Jets.

But it's another story for the party of the second part in Berlin, the San Diego Chargers. They opened in Canton, Ohio, on July 30, went home, then flew to San Antonio for a game Aug. 6 with Houston. On to Berlin for last Saturday's game and then back to San Diego, where they will play San Francisco on Thursday night - their third game in 12 days over . . . Oh, 14,000 miles, give or take a mile or two.