For the first time since 2005, Mexico City hosted an NFL game, as the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans faced off on Monday Night Football this week. The atmosphere created by the passionate 76,473 fans inside Estadio Azteca resonated across two countries, and the energy was clearly evident, even on television.
Thirty minutes after tickets went on sale this summer, they sold out, and fans certainly came out in full force to the historic stadium that has hosted two World Cup finals, the Olympics, and countless memorable soccer games. The Raiders, a favorite team of many Mexican football fans, had a notable home-field advantage, and they pulled out a narrow 27–20 victory to improve to 8–2 on the year and remain atop the AFC West.
The buildup and anticipation of the big event made the NFL’s return to Mexico City truly special. Being from Mexico City myself, watching the weekend unfold made me very proud. The NFL emphasized the beautiful aspects of the country.
In 2005, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals played the first ever NFL regular season game outside of the United States before 103,467 spectators. Back in 1994, the Dallas Cowboys battled the Houston Oilers in a preseason game, and this game had the highest single-game attendance in NFL history.
Estadio Azteca has undergone several renovations over the last few years that reduced capacity, but these large crowds offer more proof of the NFL’s popularity in Mexico.
Networks covering the game did a tremendous job of setting the scene for viewers at home. On Sunday morning, ESPN set up its weekly NFL Countdown in Chapultepec Park, Mexico’s equivalent to Central Park in New York. At this beautiful, 1,600-acre park, a fan-fest allowed locals to participate in a variety of football activities, meet former players, and get an up-close look at what Americans enjoy every week.
Throughout the show, and continuing through the broadcast of the game, in-depth feature stories highlighted Mexico’s distinct culture and history. Video shots of the many monuments and traditions, paired with lessons about each of them, gave fans a history lesson along with football insight.
Apart from covering the colorful Mexican culture, reporters displayed Mexico’s passion for American football. Although soccer is king there, many people love football and follow it closely.
From taking trips to local restaurants and markets, to spotlighting the growth of youth football, the NFL and its correspondents placed Mexico on a high pedestal for all to see.
In one segment, a TV crew traveled to a local university that fields a football team and spoke to players about what it’s like to play football instead of soccer and about how the sport began in Mexico.
This segment also featured the increasing numbers of kids playing flag football. According to Arturo Olivé, the managing director of NFL Mexico, there are 2.5 million kids, both boys and girls, who are in the flag football program. People who may not have realized how important football has become in Mexico, myself included, really got a good look at the growth of the sport.
Seeing TV analysts and current and former players praise my home nation was incredibly refreshing. At times, especially recently, relations have been strained between Mexico and the United States. For this game, however, everything seemed to be put aside. While this might have felt like just another regular season game on the field, it undoubtedly meant so much more to the citizens of Mexico, who showcased their country and opened up the possibility of hosting NFL games more frequently.
It took 11 years for the NFL to return to Mexico City, but after a rousing success on Monday night, don’t be surprised if football in Estadio Azteca becomes a regular occurrence.
Photographs by (from top): Miguel Tovar/LatinContent/Getty Images; Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images