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French Like The Show, But Not the Timeouts

`YES,'' says Olivier Obadie, when asked if he has heard of the annual championship of American football, ``I know all about the Hollywood Bowl.'' Confronted by a hail of snickers from his friend Stephane, the group manager in a computer services company and a spare-time rugby player quickly corrects himself.

Mr. Obadie is excused for confusing two icons of American culture. For the French, whose sports passion is soccer, American football is still an exotic, little-watched, and hardly understood game. But that is slowly changing.

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``The Super Bowl was watched in 150,000 homes last year,'' says Frederic Chevit, associate director of sports at Canal Plus, the cable-TV company that has broadcast the event live here since 1985. ``But when you consider the hour it's on'' - from midnight to 4 a.m. on a Monday morning - ``that's really exceptional.'' The viewership is up from 10,000 households six years ago.

``I watched the Super Bowl once myself,'' says Obadie, ``but I have to admit I didn't make it all the way through.'' He has seen parts of four or five other football games.

``It's entertaining, but seems a little long to us with all those timeouts,'' says the small but solid rugby player. ``I consider it more physical and violent than rugby.''

The Super Bowl is scheduled to be covered again this year in Lib'eration, a daily Paris newspaper, by a journalist sent especially for the event. The year-round French Federation of American Football counts 75 amateur teams across the country.

Obadie believes that, for the French, the attraction of American football is ``its spectacular side.'' Not just the ``pompom girls,'' he smiles, ``but everything about the way the game is played and covered.'' Yet while he's aware of the teams that play American football in France, Obadie says, ``I don't think the French mentality is aggressive enough for it to really catch on.''

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