LONDON — The Chicago Bears beat the Dallas Cowboys, 17-6, but nobody at Wembley Stadium Sunday night seemed to care who won. For the sellout crowd of 82,699 British and away-from-home American fans who came to watch, it was enough to see the razzle-dazzle, hear the crunch of helmets and shoulder pads, listen to the band and cheer.
They cheered the players--especially when the ball was kicked or thrown so the less expert among them could actually see where it was in the pile of bodies.
They cheered the cheerleaders, and a streaker who ran into the end zone in the fourth quarter, and another man who made it out into the grass in his underwear. ("When I saw the streaker, I had to look around and check all the guys on the bench," Bear Coach Mike Ditka said.) They cheered a soccer ball that somehow got thrown onto the field, and they cheered one another.
And of course, they cheered when William Perry, Chicago's 308-pound "Refrigerator," scored his team's second touchdown on a one-yard run.
As football games go, it was a fairly typical preseason game, with lots of sloppy play and frequent substitution by both sides. The Bears showed the tough defense that helped them win the last Super Bowl, and the Cowboys, who committed four turnovers, blew two decent scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter.
For the enthusiastic fans, however, some of whom began arriving three hours before the game despite rain that continued through the first half, the game was an event of the highest order. The American Bowl, as it was dubbed by National Football League publicists, seemed to fulfill all the league's expectations of a British public eager for more football. If all goes well in the future, NFL games will be regularly broadcast on television here and in other Western European countries.
The game was the third pro football contest in London. The NFL's Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Cardinals played before 35,000 fans in Wembley in 1983, and the Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League drew about 20,000 in 1984.
Many of the British fans seemed to have difficulty following the plays, and spent long periods studying their programs as if searching for a code. At one point early in the first quarter, the Cowboys fumbled. The Americans in the crowd seemed to know right away what had happened and a smattering of cheers broke out. The British waited about 10 seconds, trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. They stared a bit, waited for the pileup to disentangle, and gradually word spread that someone had done something good. The British cheered louder than ever.
But when the first touchdown was scored, nobody missed it. Dallas quarterback Danny White passed to wide receiver Tony Hill, who gained seven yards before he fumbled the ball. Chicago strong safety Dave Duerson recovered and ran 48 yards to score as the fans screamed themselves hoarse.
The second Bear touchdown was even better. With two minutes left in the first half, a quarterback keeper by Steve Fuller, sent in to replace Jim McMahon at the end of the first quarter, brought the ball to the Cowboys' one-yard line. The crowd was beside itself as Perry was sent in to steamroller across for the score.
Although the capacity crowd seemed to favor the Bears--if only because they've seen The Refrigerator selling groceries in local advertisements, and followed the last NFL season up through the Super Bowl--it was equally generous in cheering 21- and 22-yard Dallas field goals by Rafael Septien. Each kick over the goalposts brought hundreds of popping camera flashes from the stands, where eager fans sought to record a part of the game that would later be recognizable as football.