Mini Footballs Draw Biggest Cheers at China's First Football Game
May. 31, 1991
BEIJING (AP) _ Marc Weekly scored the first touchdown Friday in the first organized, American-style football game ever played in China, but the biggest cheers came when his teammates threw miniature footballs into the stands.
Weekly and the Pacific Lutheran Lutes of Tacoma, Wash., won 20-7 over Evangel College's Crusaders from Springfield, Mo., in the first of three exhibition games in China.
But Lutes coach Frosty Westering said the biggest cause for celebration was that the game took place at all.
''We sweat blood and we almost had an international situation here,'' Westering told players from both college teams who gathered for a post-game talk and prayer at midfield. ''But now it's over and it was a great game. We're just trying to make the Chinese have a good time.''
The Lutes and Crusaders are scheduled to play June 8 in the southern city of Canton and June 12 in the coastal city of Shanghai.
They had threatened to cancel the games when Chinese authorities refused to return camera equipment to U.S. television crews who came to document the tour. Customs confiscated the equipment at Beijing airport. China said the TV crews hold visas that do not allow them to bring cameras or work as journalists.
David Stair, Evangel athletic director, said college officials finally decided to play because they didn't want to disappoint the players or the Chinese spectators.
About 25,000 people were in the stands at the 72,000-seat Workers' Stadium for the opening kickoff. First the players ran through mock plays and the announcer briefly described how to play the game known as ''olive ball'' in Chinese because of the ball's shape.
Weekly followed up his 3-yard touchdown run on a quarterback option with scoring passes of 21 and 11 yards to tight end Kevin Engman. Evangel's only score came in the third quarter, narrowing Pacific Lutheran's lead to 14-7, when running back Chris Lopez scored on a 5-yard drive up the middle.
The game wasn't quite the same as back home, though.
The playing field wasn't big enough for the regulation 100 yards from end zone to end zone.
On first down the offensive team didn't have to advance a full 10 yards, said Phil Barnes, the back judge in the Big 10 Conference officiating crew that came to work the games.
''It's more like first and 9.4,'' Barnes said.
At the outset of the game, the fans were eager to cheer, clapping enthusiastically when the players shook hands after the coin toss and jumping to catch the souvenir balls the Lutes threw their way.
After several failed attempts, foreigners in the crowd succeeded in getting ''the wave'' to go around the stadium.
One policeman tried to stop Chinese from standing and throwing up their hands. Only a few people near him obeyed his order to sit down.
But enthusiasm waned. People began filtering out at halftime, with Pacific ahead 14-0.
Some of those leaving said they didn't understand what they saw. Others said they didn't understand it, but still liked it.
''I know they made six points and after they kicked they made another point,'' said one spectator, who said he has frequently watched the sport on television. ''It's a real macho sport.''
''We like it a lot,'' said a woman who watched with a friend from the front row. ''It has more force.''
A 17-year-old in the stands complained that the players weren't ''going at it.''
A taxi driver seated near him disagreed. ''I think it's pretty intense,'' he said.
But he said it didn't seem as exciting as televised American football games he has seen.
''When I watch them on TV, I see them knock each other down all the time. It doesn't measure up to soccer,'' he said.