Gridiron in Mexico?
If there is one thing Australian fans of the sport can identify with, it’s supporting the game across national divides and come Monday Night Football (Tuesday midday AEST), the NFL comes to Mexico City for Week 11.
The clash between the Houston Texans and the rampant Oakland Raiders at the Estadio Azteca Stadium will remove a standard fixture out of Texas or California and place it bang in the middle of Mexico’s cathedral of sport.
Home of soccer’s Club America and default ground for the Mexican national football team, the 87,000 capacity venue is one of the more intimidating atmospheres for visiting teams.
It was the setting for one of the most talked about and controversial moments in world sport, seeing Diego Maradona get away with the “Hand of God” when he punched the ball into the net against England at the 1986 World Cup.
That same match saw El Diego score the “Goal of the Century” to run rings around the English defence, coming 16 years after the thrilling 4-3 Italy win over West Germany in the Semi Final of the 1970 World Cup.
The stakes won’t be nearly as high for a Week 11 regular season fixture, but the players that take the field won’t have any excuse not to rise to the occasion.
For one thing, with the visiting Raiders are one franchise mooted for a change to a location with a bigger demographic, there is the possibility of having their very own team to call home.
ESPN reports that the NFL’s executive vice president for international affairs Mark Waller believes it is just a matter of time before the organisation reaches beyond their national borders. “I think we will have at least one or two franchises outside of the U.S.”
With more seats being made available to local punters, the 95,500 tickets for the game sold out almost immediately. If that isn’t an indication for Mexico City’s appetite for the game, then there is no other gauge possible.
NFL Mexico’s general director Arturo Olivé gave a glowing report about the country’s capacity to fulfil any benchmark placed on them.
“We’re tremendously excited, not only for this game but for the future of the sport in Mexico,” said Olivé. “We haven’t had a regular-season game here since 2005, but now I think we can have one every year. … By every measure, we are seeing tremendous growth.”
And he isn’t concerned that these two franchises will be left in the dark for fans wanting to see their teams do battle.
“While the Cowboys and Steelers are our most popular teams, the Raiders and Texans also have a great many fans, and every team has a following. The cake is getting better, and that means more slices.”
Sports administrators are always weary of demographics when they make executive decisions and when talk of expansion comes up, Olivé knows that Mexico has the figures on their side.
“Whenever I make a presentation,” Olivé remarks, “I get kidded by my colleagues because one of the first slides is always a quote from Thomas Friedman of The New York Times.”
“A few years ago, he wrote, ‘In India, people ask you about China, and, in China, people ask you about India: Which country will become the more dominant economic power in the 21st century?’ I now have the answer: Mexico.'”
Yet the events of last week cannot be overlooked, with the US election result leaving many to doubt and question the nation’s ability to reach out and connect to the Latino community in particular.
It is so toxic right now that USA Today report the American National Anthem will indeed be booed as it is played prior to kick off.
Raiders fan Stephen Sanchez is traveling down from the North of Mexico in Monterrey and thinks the Trump victory will spill over into a moment of protest.
“I will be at the game and I think some people will boo (the anthem),” argues Sanchez. “People will maybe feel there is even more reason to now.”
But if there is one thing that can connect people at a time of disfunction and anger, it is often sport that offers unity regardless of colour or creed.
The Mexican voyage could open a lot of eyes at NFL HQ and with the London experiment kicking plenty of goals at Wembley, perhaps the Australian market might be next as a window into the much sought after Asian market.
Whatever the future may hold, Mexico City is ready to put on one hell of a show for Monday Night.