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The gemütlichkeit of Berliners and the beauty of the city's surroundings provided a happy balance. Even McMahon enjoyed a moment of levity, stopping on the gangplank as the Vikes boarded a cruise boat on the Havel River and turning to his teammates behind him: "Is this a three-hour tour?" he asked, suggesting that, somewhere on German TV, he had found an all-Gilligan's Island channel.
At least one Buffalo player rented a high-performance German automobile and opened it up on the no-speed-limit Autobahn, but this was a method of release not recommended for the Vikings, who were more than a little logy upon arriving in Berlin. The day after touching down, rookie quarterback Gino Torretta tried to recall the team's itinerary. "Saturday we flew from Minneapolis to Dallas," he said. "We played the Cowboys on Sunday, flew back to Minneapolis after the game, got in at two in the morning, slept in our own beds, had a meeting at two that afternoon, left for Berlin at four, stopping in Boston for fuel. We got here the next morning. But it's not so bad—I see the commissioner got something like 8,000 frequent-flier miles in a week."
Indeed, Paul Tagliabue sounded less like the Commish and, to hear fragments of his sentences last week, more like an international financier. "I was reading an interesting article in Der Spiegel about the Bundesleague...," he would say in one breath, and in the next, "I was talking on the telephone to someone in Moscow, and Mr. Goodell would like me to meet with people from Hong Kong when I'm in London...."
In fact, Tagliabue is an international financier, trying to drum up his global market for the NFL. To that end, something called the NFL World Partnership was formed last December to promote American football as a participation sport in Europe. Clinics by former Pittsburgh Steeler coach Chuck Noll, for instance, have been wildly successful, especially in Germany, and the NFL would clearly like to see Hampel, a former member of the Frankfurt Galaxy, make the Broncos. "The NBA has Detlef Schrempf," Luck says of the Indiana Pacers' German star. "Kids who play American football here could use an example like that, someone they can point to and say, 'He made it in the NFL, so can I.' "
The kids are willing to learn. Perhaps it is instructive that the German word for school is spelled Schule, but pronounced Shula. After conducting a recent series of clinics in the former East Germany, Luck stayed to watch two local teams clash in the first football game ever played in the city of Cottbus, near the Polish border. In the crowd he spied one boy in a Los Angeles Raider cap and another in a San Francisco 49er jersey. The league had done it! The NFL stood astride the globe, having conquered the world, having infiltrated the former Soviet bloc. The Iron Curtain? Mean Joe Greene was part of that, wasn't he? Proudly, Luck approached the boys and introduced himself, the director of the mighty NFL in Europe.
"Ahhh," said one of the boys in German, clearly impressed, the league's elegant red-white-and-blue shield adorning his Niner jersey. "The NFL...it is a clothing company?"
"It told me two things," says Luck. "It said that NFL Properties has done a great job in merchandising over here. But it also said that, in other areas, we still have a long way to go."