It didn't take very long for the players from Maryland and Tennessee to find out why the Sun Bowl has been called "the Fun Bowl."

In fact, the players might remember pregame festivities a lot longer than Saturday afternoon's game back across the border in El Paso.

Stroll through this unbelievably impoverished city of 900,000 and see football players at strip joints and at dog races, as well as trying to fend off call girls. And see the Sun Bowl hosts -- about 25 per team -- scramble to "keep close tabs" on the players, as one official said.

Maryland's football team had barely hit town Monday when many of the players walked across the border to a male strip house called "Treetop."

Let linebacker Chuck Faucette, a self-described wild-and-crazy guy, tell the rest. "We went in there -- a lot of guys -- and there were male strippers with a lot of girls standing there. They were paying the guys $1 for a kiss.

"I walked up and told them they could kiss me for nothing. The Treetop lost a lot of business," Faucette said today before practice. "They've got a lot of wild stuff there.

"They play this one game where they put you in a barber's chair, pour vodka in your mouth until you say, 'Stop,' then spin you around. It's really neat. I've got to get back there tonight . . . . I just hope I make it back across the border. Alive and in one piece. This could be an interesting week."

Probably more interesting, to use Faucette's word, for Tennessee than for Maryland. The Volunteers have been here since Sunday, with no curfew until Wednesday night. Maryland Coach Bobby Ross had the Terrapins under 12:30 a.m. curfew tonight, "so things can't get that out of hand," Faucette said.

The only other guidelines the schools have given the players is to not embarrass themselves or the universities, various players say.

Two buses brought the Volunteers into Ciudad Juarez this afternoon after practice so the players could shop at the town market and barter with the shopkeepers. One Tennessee player, Tony Simmons, left with a $69 pinewood chess set for which he paid all of $20.

Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors said this afternoon, "I don't think anybody is dumb enough to stay out in Mexico all night," which was met with several raised eyebrows.

Gib Romaine, Maryland's very upright assistant coach, said he left his children at home. "This is a good place," he said. "For adults."

Taxi drivers stood on corners, looking for players or cheerleaders, or anyone who looks like he might be from Tennessee or Maryland. "Want a show?" they asked in broken English. "We'll find you a private show."

Despite all the good times that can be had, the players have been struck by the poverty. Those expecting to find warm weather and palm trees -- which the Terrapins found last year in Orlando, Fla., and the year before in Honolulu -- have been shocked.

Downtown Juarez is frightfully poor and dirty. And El Paso, at best, is scruffy. Jess Atkinson, Maryland's kicker, looked toward the river separating the cities and said, "You know, I thought the Rio Grande was some huge river. And all it is is a small pond.

"Lots of rocks, man. Lots of wind, too," Atkinson said. "Rocks and wind. We're supposed to go to a Sheriff's Posse tonight. I don't know how to dress for something like that. I brought this punk rock shirt my little sister gave me for Christmas. But they'll lock you up for wearing something like that down here."

The Maryland "Titans," as they've been billed in radio advertisements in Mexico, were greeted with gifts in a large blue nylon bag. "There were blow dryers, shampoo, brushes, a bicycle cap, a decorated sombrero," Atkinson said. "Hell, they should have just stuck with money. Half the stuff in the bag we can't even use."

As the wind blew viciously in the Sun Bowl Stadium, which might not be even half-full Saturday, Maryland took to the practice field. And Faucette reminded everybody to stay under control, "because the first priority here is to win a football game."

Atkinson said that every time Ross addresses the team, he talks about how badly he wants to beat Tennessee. But it's hard for anyone here not to notice the contrast between a typical football weekend, or even most bowl games, and what happens here at the Fun Bowl.

"It's a different world," Atkinson said. "There's just a whole lot of stuff you're not used to seeing."