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SUPER BOWL XXVII : Sports-Starved in Moscow : Overseas: A Redskins' fan arranges Super Bowl telecast in Russia, where pro football expatriates watch Cowboys win.

February 01, 1993|BETH KNOBEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOSCOW — It was the event Woodland Hills businessman Cary Languirand had been awaiting for days--a chance to slug a few cups of coffee to ward off sleep, munch on pretzels and settle down with friends to watch the Dallas Cowboys take on the Buffalo Bills.

In Moscow, it was Super Bowl Monday.

Although kickoff occurred at 2:18 a.m. local time, almost 600 packed Moscow's Radisson Hotel to watch the Super Bowl, beamed live from Pasadena on a special closed-circuit telecast. It was the first time the Super Bowl was shown live in the former Soviet Union.

"I can't believe I can watch the game here," said Languirand, who recently moved to Moscow to expand his food-importing business. "I'm so sports starved it's scary."

Most of the crowd was grateful to spend $15 for admission, $5 for a turkey sandwich and $1.50 per beer to have the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl live. Carlin Walters, a Marine stationed at the American Embassy in Moscow, even came dressed in western boots, a 10-gallon hat and Cowboys sweat shirt.

"If I couldn't watch the game, I'd be calling my mom and dad every five minutes," the Vidor, Tex., native explained, jumping to his feet and slapping high-fives with his buddies after each Dallas touchdown. Like Walters, a majority of those present were rooting for the Cowboys.

Longtime Moscow residents were particularly happy to have live football coverage. "I've been in Moscow for four years," said Jeffrey Zeiger, owner of Moscow's Tren-Mos restaurant chain. "For several hundred Western people to sit and watch the Super Bowl in an American establishment is proof that this city has come a long way."

Squinting to see one of the room's five television screens, Zeiger added: "It doesn't matter who wins the game. Moscow won today."

The screening was organized by Paul Brandus, Moscow correspondent for American Public Radio. "I'm a huge Redskins fan, and last year I was pulling my hair out because I couldn't watch the game," Brandus said. In November, inspired by a huge election-night party at the Radisson, Brandus called the NFL and, for an undisclosed amount of money, bought the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl in Moscow.

"It's really amazing that anyone would come out in the middle of the night, in sub-freezing temperatures. We're talking serious football fans," Brandus said.

The biggest difference for Moscow viewers, aside from the hour, was that the bowl was broadcast without commercials that American firms had paid so much to air. However, NBC's play-by-play commentary could be heard.

Moscow fans noticed the absence of Budweiser's annual Super Bowl advertising campaign, and many chanted "Bud Bowl! Bud Bowl!" during the halftime entertainment provided by a local English-language FM station. The halftime show from the Rose Bowl was blacked out, and organizers ran a moonwalk contest to compensate Moscow viewers for missing Michael Jackson's appearance.

Budweiser's absence was good news to the sponsor of the Russian broadcast--the local Miller Beer distributor, First Republic, Inc.

"We thought that sponsoring the broadcast would be a good way to move into Moscow, to let people know we're here," said Leah McDonald, Moscow-based assistant of the Tampa-based company.

Brandus said that the local Budweiser and Miller dealerships, both new to Moscow, had competed to sponsor the party, but that Miller had made the best offer. Not only was the hotel ballroom decorated with Miller pennants, but Miller commercials were piped in to fill the time normally taken up by other advertisements.

Virtually all of the viewers who started filling the ballroom at 11:30 p.m. were Americans, but a few football-loving Canadians, Englishmen and Australians were watching. There was also a handful of curious Russians, most of whom had some connection to sports.

"American football is a new game for us, but it's very interesting," said Lucia Shliapnikov, who sat watching the game with her husband Andrei, general manager of a sports promotion company, in the back of the room. "We've been to America, and we saw some football games there."

Brandus said that the $15 admission, nearly a month's salary to the average Russian worker, was waived for any Russian who showed up to watch the game but didn't have the money to pay.

Organizers donated $2.50 from each ticket to charity.

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