MEXICALI, Mexico — A 5-9, 34-year-old, semi-retired, semi-pro football player, Bob Faeber defies the gods of the gridiron only once a year, suiting up as a representative of his country and the High Desert Football League in the annual Bola Amistad, the "friendship bowl" pitting American all-stars against a team of Mexicans.
Defensive coordinator for this year's team, Faeber expected to play a lot and get bruised, belted and occasionally trampled. But he reasoned all his contusions would occur on the field as he attempted to cover and tackle the young Mexicans from the Centro de Estudio Technicales y Superior, the local university.
Faeber never thought he'd wind up in a postgame rodeo on the back of a 700-pound bull. Actually, he never thought he'd wind up \o7 under\f7 the bull. But Faeber, who has had to throw a lot of bull in his career selling cars, managed to get thrown by a bull, an ornery beast that stepped not too gingerly on Faeber's chest and hand before snorting away.
That put an immediate end to Faeber's stay in Mexico. Forgoing the traditional party later that night, he got into his van and began a five-hour, one-handed drive home to Calabasas. On his cellular telephone, he called his wife and told her about his injury. She assumed he had been in a fight. Faeber did not want to tell her about his adventure on the bull. Not on the phone, anyway. Those things are best explained in person.
Although his American teammates had the good sense to keep off the bulls, their visit, too, was marked by gross miscalculation and embarrassing athletic ability. Expecting only token resistence from undersized, inexperienced Mexicans with reportedly little knowledge of football, the all-stars were gored, 26-0.
"I can't say I'm shocked, but I am surprised about our showing," said Michael McShane, a defensive back from Granada Hills. "This game is just for fun, but, damn, losing like this is still hard to take. I guess we messed up. We got sleep last night. We should have come down the night before and partied like we usually do."
Which was exactly what Jim Lott did not want. Lott is the 82-year-old, hard-nosed commissioner of the league, which he founded more than 50 years ago in a Reseda poolroom. Since 1954, Lott has been taking his teams to Mexico for the friendship bowl, and this year especially he was going to make sure that the players he selected were not the kind who put partying and chasing women ahead of diplomacy.
After years of bad playing conditions--dirt fields, no markings, no referees--and no publicity, Lott knew he was going to get first-class treatment and plenty of attention for the game last weekend because NBC was sending a producer and camera crew to Mexicali to shoot a segment on Lott for "SportsWorld," which is scheduled to air next Sunday on Channel 4.
Tipped off by Lott that network television was going to make everybody famous, the local tourism commission went out of its way to promote the virtues of Mexicali, a border city of 1.5 million. Officials put on their version of a spectacle, complete with a banner welcoming NBC, colorful flamenco dancers, long-winded speeches by local dignitaries and a halftime show longer than anything ever staged at the Super Bowl.
Three hours before the game, when Lott assembled his 36 players at the DeAnza Hotel in nearby Calexico, he warned them to behave themselves, ordering them not to take beer on the university campus. "So don't say, 'I didn't know,' " Lott told them. "You're representing your country. Afterwards there's a party and you can do anything you want--act like American boys again." Some players snickered.
Known for his iron-fisted rule, Lott quickly straightened them out. "Only one guy's talking and that's me," he snapped. One player continued to chatter. Lott singled him out. "If you've got something more important to say, come up here and say it," Lott growled at him. The player lowered his head, others murmured. "Let's knock it off, will you," Lott groused.
After Lott's speech--"Jim tells us about the same thing every year," Faeber said--a caravan of Americans drove across the border and rendezvoused in the parking lot at the university, three miles from the heart of Mexicali. Faeber assigned the jerseys, giving them out from the back of his van like a hustler selling hot car stereos. He kept careful records--in a league that always scraps to survive, jerseys are a valuable item, and they would have to be returned.
It was only when the players got their numbers that they began to take on an identity. Most had not played together or even known one another, a situation that can create chaos in a supposedly complex game like football.
But in more than 40 friendship games, Americans had won about half, simplifying their offense and defense, capitalizing on their size advantage and lifelong exposure to the intricacies of football through hours of watching "Monday Night Football."