The team hotel is a half hour from Barcelona, in Castelldefels, and even if the players were closer to town they couldn't afford to go there. "We went in one place and ordered a beer," said backup Dragon quarterback Tony Rice, the former Notre Dame star, "and it cost $13." Thirteen-dollar beers do not mesh well with the average WLAF player salary of $20,000.
Indeed, the budget for your basic POW (Prisoner of the World, as the Dragons like to call themselves) is tight all around. It can cost $7 a minute to call home to the U.S. from the hotel. Plus, the Barcelona owner, Josep M. Figueras, Spain's largest real estate baron, can really pinch a peseta. He makes the players pay for game tickets and souvenir T-shirts and hats.
Then came word from the league office in New York City that $175 per week would be taken out of every WLAF player's paycheck for room and board. That was more bad news for the players, who in the first week often arrived at the training table only to find all the board gone. "The cooks are having a little trouble realizing how much 41 players eat," said Bicknell. "I've been here two weeks, and I haven't had a piece of meat yet."
Europe-on-$10-a-day was perilously close to causing a walkout among the Dragons. "If they think they're going to make us pay for living in a hotel 10,000 miles from home, they're crazy," said lineman Brian Voorhes. "We may show up at the game and forget to put on pads."
Oh, and you know that innovative coach-to-quarterback radio transmitter system with the receiver built into the quarterback's helmet? It needs a little work. "That thing kills your ears," Perez said as he ripped off his helmet during a practice. Plus, every time an airplane flew over Waldstadion, the Galaxy's home field, the transmitter went on the fritz. With Waldstadion located right next to the Frankfurt-Main International Airport, WLAF quarterbacks should catch a lot of static. Somebody is going to become the first quarterback to run for 100 yards, pass for 300 and land three 747s.
Still, for all the warm milk, cold showers, fatty meals and skinny paychecks, there was a sense that history was being made in Frankfurt. A helicopter landed at midfield, and out popped WLAF president Mike Lynn with the game ball. "Good luck, men," Lynn said in German, and the men went out and played like Hans and Franz.
In the first quarter, the quarterbacks completed three of 12 passes between them, three punts traveled less than 35 yards, and Frankfurt gained 15 yards to London's one. Let it be recorded at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, that the first points ever scored in this league were the result of a player running backward—a safety. This was about as Fahrvergnügen as you can get from 49ers-Giants. Still, with no more than five non-Americans on each 40-man roster, it was significant that a foreign player, Philip Alexander of London, kicked off, and another foreign player, Victor Ebubedike of London, made the first tackle.
Happily, the robust Waldstadion crowd of 23,169, including a large contingent of Americans, hung with it, aided mostly by its own giddiness at getting to watch something other than soccer hooligans. The Germans in attendance had been coaxed to the game with ads that read "Come watch 11 men and their egg."
Admittedly, what makes the World League go round are U.S. players who rank somewhere between once-was and never-will-be, a kind of Goodwill box that might contain something somebody should have kept. Take, for instance, an unemployed asbestos inspector, London wide receiver Jon Horton, who played for Arizona. He caught a 96-yard Bombe to open the second half. A few minutes later the Monarchs' Dana Brinson, a flanker out of Nebraska, made a wicked move on a reverse for an eight-yard touchdown, which was capped by the league's first polka, a little German hip-hop celebration in the end zone that would have sent the NFL owners immediately into committee meetings. London won easily, 24-11, giving meaning to the new World order.
Somewhere near the bottom of that order, for now, are the New York-New Jersey Knights, who flew to Barcelona, had their baggage accidentally switched with a marching band's, got it back a day later and then had their helmets handed to them on Sunday night by the Dragons 19-7 in cold rain and wind. Who knows why 19,223 Barcelonans showed up in that weather to watch a game they didn't understand. Still, they stayed until the final gun, singing soccer songs, holding up banners and lighting flares. They were, without a doubt, the stars.