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The Crunch of ‘Casco’ Against ‘Coraza’ to be Heard in Spain

July 31, 1993

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) _ One year after the 1992 Summer Games, athletes again will be running, jumping and throwing in Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. This time, though, they’ll be wearing helmets and pads.

The San Francisco 49ers play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in an NFL preseason game, the first time the American Bowl series has come to Spain.

It’s one of four NFL games being played outside the United States in one week, including three in Europe: Also on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles play the New Orleans Saints in Tokyo; on Aug. 7, the Buffalo Bills play the Minnesota Vikings in Berlin; and the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys play the Detroit Lions in London on Aug. 8.

Those who make the climb up Montjuic Mountain to Olympic Stadium will be visiting not only the site of last year’s Games, but also the former home of the World League of American Football’s Barcelona Dragons - arguably the WLAF’s most successful franchise before the league halted play after last season.

U.S. football is not unknown in Spain. The ″football boom″ that began here five years ago created about 35 semipro teams and as many as 1,500 players, mostly in the Barcelona area. The Dragons once drew almost 50,000 fans to a game - more than any of Spain’s 20 first-division soccer team drew the same weekend.

At least 16,000 tickets were sold a week before the 49ers-Steelers game, with a total of 30,000 to 40,000 expected. Attendance could be held down some because many Spaniards are away for the traditional summer vacation period. Tickets cost from $11 to $55.

Many at Sunday’s game won’t know a draw play from a draw bridge. It’s the cheerleaders - ″animadoras″ in Spanish - the all-American hoopla and the Olympic Stadium they’ll come to see.

Not to mention a free party for ticket holders after the game, with entertainment by Spain’s top rock group, Los Manolos.

″Sure, going there will be like a party for some, but there is real interest here among many people,″ said Albert Arranz, a journalist with the radio network Cadena COPE. ″There’s a seed here, but it needs watering - and the water is money.″

Arranz said at least three Spanish journalists were in the United States recently to cover an NFL training camp. And although two magazines featuring American football failed in recent years, ″it shows there is interest, just not enough yet to be financially successful,″ Arranz added.

Newspapers have run periodic supplements to explain the NFL rules. Terms like ″quarterback″ and ″blitz″ have no Spanish equivalents, although helmet is ″casco″ and shoulder pads are ″coraza.″

Last Sunday’s magazine supplement to Barcelona’s largest newspaper, La Vanguardia, featured a six-page cover story on the game, including a profile of Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

A store in Barcelona, Amsport, specializes in American sporting goods for baseball, ice hockey and football. Another store is Quarterback, a small chain with shops in Madrid and Barcelona that sells genuine NFL-style football gear. Quarterback will sell about $350,000 in gear this season, a small but thriving business in a country hard hit by recession and 21 percent unemployment.

″Football here attracts your tennis set,″ said Pablo Carabias, owner of Madrid’s Quarterback store. ″Our customers are people who basically still have money to spend.″

Bringing an American Bowl game to Spain - a series begun in 1986 in London - is the city’s reward for its two-year support of the Dragons. The future of that club and the WLAF could be known at a Sept. 15 meeting, when NFL clubs are expected to hear a proposal to restart the NFL-financed WLAF, which lost about $20 million in two seasons.

NFL spokesman Pete Abitante said any new WLAF would be all-Europe based, with perhaps rival teams in cities like Barcelona and Madrid, London and Manchester, or Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. The old WLAF had 10 teams, seven in the United States.

″Right now there’s a proposal in the hopper which would have the WLAF coming back in 1994 and ’95 under a partnership with a corporate partner,″ Abitante said. He declined to name the partner.

″The pieces that are falling into place are very good for restarting the WLAF, but how the NFL clubs react to them remains to be seen,″ Abitante added.

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