Lengthy earlier than the NFL staged regular-season video games outdoors of the US, it dipped its toes into worldwide waters in what it known as “The American Bowl.”
From 1986-2005, the league performed 40 preseason video games below the American Bowl banner, with matchups as shut as Montreal and Mexico Metropolis to as far-off as Tokyo and London. These video games did not matter within the standings however they meant loads to a league that was attempting to broaden its world attain.
In spite of everything that experimentation, the NFL determined in 2005 that it was going to cease wading within the shallow finish and dive into worldwide video games headfirst. So it was that the Arizona Cardinals hosted the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico Metropolis, the primary regular-season NFL sport not performed in the US.
The Cardinals beat the Niners 31-14 on Oct. 2, 2005, at Estadio Azteca. With 103,467 followers, it set the attendance document for a regular-season sport that stood for nearly 4 seasons. The sport itself wasn’t significantly memorable for what occurred on the sphere however nonetheless holds loads of significance in what it meant for the league.
For proof, look no additional than Monday night time’s matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), the place the Cardinals and 49ers will meet on the identical place they opened the regular-season worldwide door greater than 17 years earlier. In that point, the league has performed 43 regular-season video games outdoors of the U.S.
In fact, the NFL’s first worldwide regular-season foray did not come with out hurdles. Whether or not it was gamers pursuing passports for the primary time, prolonged conferences with the Drug Enforcement Administration or loud concert events outdoors the workforce resorts the night time earlier than the sport, there have been loads of obstacles each foreseeable and unpredictable.
Right here is the story of how the NFL’s first regular-season worldwide sport got here to be, as informed by those that put it collectively, performed in it and coached in it:
WILL WILSON, FORMER DIRECTOR, NFL MEXICO: I used to be initially in Frankfurt with the [NFL Europe franchise] Galaxy and I ended up in Edinburgh, I used to be there for seven years and the final three years I ran the workforce. As a part of being in NFL Worldwide, the chance introduced itself for me to run the enterprise in Mexico. My boss on the time put that on my plate, in all probability as a result of I lived there earlier than, in order that they assumed I would have the ability to go down there and determine it out. My spouse is Australian, we met in Edinburgh, and for us it was — why not? We did not have any youngsters on the time, we have been just lately married, we have been each residing in numerous nations than the place we have been from, so we moved to Mexico in 2000, and I began working the enterprise at that time limit.
GERALDINE GONZALEZ, FORMER PR & COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, NFL MÉXICO: There was a workforce known as the Scottish Claymores, and Will Wilson was working there. He had a reference to Mexico, as a result of he had spent a few of his adolescence learning right here. His father at the moment was an government at an important worldwide firm, so Will already knew somewhat about our methods, which was what we favored.
WILSON: The American Bowl video games in Mexico have been profitable, [but] we have been beginning to see them battle in different markets. They have been beginning to taper off somewhat bit and there was a way that the mannequin was getting drained or wanted one thing new. And that followers wished extra — they have been in search of greater than a preseason sport in worldwide markets. I feel it was in all probability 15 or 20 years of American Bowl video games earlier than we obtained to the regular-season sport [in Mexico City]. It was at all times a kind of far-fetched concepts that was on the market, I do not recall the precise second that it actually [became] one thing to dig into. However me and my workers labored with the technique people in New York and began to take a look at what it could appear like, the way it might work and what the enterprise case could be, what we might want to consider if we have been to make it occur. That was actually in that 2003 vary when it began to choose up steam, and dig in, to see how we might pull it off.
GONZALEZ: Each time a regular-season sport is performed away from the house of the workforce that must host it, you then lose that sport, and also you lose concessions, parking cash, all the things from meals gross sales, all the things from merchandise gross sales. It’s stated that you just “lose,” as a result of you aren’t at dwelling. And that’s the reason it was a should to determine methods to switch all that to a special market, as a result of though Mexico is a market of nice consumption, it’s a completely different market.
WILSON: The primary huge problem was simply getting everybody to conform to do it. I bear in mind being on a name with technique people in New York and my boss in New York, we might accomplished all this work on how we might pull it off and what it could take. And I bear in mind saying, ‘If we do not do that, we will remorse this endlessly.’ One thing to that impact. We’re at this level, let’s pull the set off and let’s go. That was hurdle primary. Doing all of the work to get people comfy with pulling the set off. That was numerous the place my efforts have been. After that it was ‘which groups and the way can we determine that out?’ A workforce must lose a house sport, and that was again in that time of time, unparalleled.
GONZALEZ: Then it was introduced forth and mentioned at among the homeowners’ conferences that happen yearly. At the moment the 49ers and the Cardinals have been in low spirits. The Cardinals are one of many oldest groups within the league and due to their geographical proximity, due to all the things that was happening, from the presence of Mexican gamers within the improvement league, in addition to those that had been in NFL Europe — together with Rolando Cantú, who had already been on Arizona’s follow squad — a chance was seen there.
ROLANDO CANTU, CARDINALS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (2004-06) AND NATIVE OF MONTERREY, MEXICO: I used to be on the follow squad in 2004, obtained lower, they usually signed me again once more. The schedule for 2005 was then launched, and I bear in mind very effectively that I had a fantastic coaching camp that 12 months they usually informed me I used to be doing very effectively. I did excellently. When the ultimate 53-man rosters have been introduced, they lower me however informed me they might signal me again for the follow squad. I had an opportunity to be within the sport in Mexico and debut there. I did not [play], however I had the possibility to be there.
WILSON: I give the Cardinals numerous credit score for taking the problem and doing it. Of us inside the league in New York actually needed to drive the hassle to determine which workforce and who to speak to so far as the possession teams. Logistic issues got here into play too, like time zones, journey — how far are they going to need to journey — that is why I feel Mexico was such a horny nation, it wasn’t going to need to be an enormous journey. Comparatively straightforward from a time zone perspective. Numerous that went into the calculus, and on the time, the [Cardinals] felt like they’d be keen to surrender a house sport so long as it made sense for them economically to come back down and play. Geographically, they’re fairly shut.
MIKE NOLAN, 49ERS COACH (2005-08): I bear in mind we had a gathering, [team owner] John York and I within the assembly. He stated, “Do you wish to play in Mexico Metropolis or do you wish to play within the Corridor of Fame sport?” And I stated … I actually don’t need an additional sport within the preseason my first 12 months. I might somewhat simply play the in-season sport in Mexico Metropolis. And I additionally thought from a fan standpoint, the 49ers have numerous followers down there. I did not know on the time who we might play, however we ended up enjoying Arizona. That is how I bear in mind it started.
BERTRAND BERRY, CARDINALS DEFENSIVE END (2004-09): The very first thing I bear in mind was numerous our guys did not have passports. In order that, first off, was one thing I discovered very fascinating. With the entire gamers we had on the squad, there was an extended line to get passports and I simply bear in mind considering like, ‘Man, we hadn’t been anyplace. We hadn’t accomplished something apart from play soccer our entire lives.’
GONZALEZ: Oct, 2, the date on which the sport was to be held, is a date that in Mexico we’ve to take with nice respect, because of the historic occasions (Tlatelolco Bloodbath) of which we’re effectively conscious right here, however that we needed to clarify to our colleagues in the US. Sure, the professionals and cons have been weighed, but it surely was determined that we needed to go forward as a result of we needed to settle for that we provide a present and a purpose for enjoyable. So, somewhat than specializing in the not-so-favorable concern due to the that means of the date, we selected to supply another and say, ‘As we speak, Oct. 2, there are additionally causes for celebrating.’
BERRY: I simply had a superb feeling about the entire thing. I wasn’t a kind of guys apprehensive about it. I used to be excited. I at all times favored doing stuff that no one had ever accomplished. So to me it was, ‘Hey, convey it on. Let’s go shine in Mexico. Let’s go convey some Cardinals followers again with us from throughout the border.’
NEIL RACKERS, CARDINALS KICKER (2003-09): I believed it was fairly cool. I used to be somewhat nervous in regards to the atmosphere and type of what to anticipate, so far as the sport goes. However then once more, rising up as a soccer participant, I used to be actually excited to get to play on knowledgeable soccer subject.
BERRY: There was positively some apprehension and is that this the suitable factor to do and why are we doing this now and why wasn’t this a preseason sport? I imply, there was a lot of dialog.
NOLAN: Once I first obtained the Niner job, in my first preseason sport, we had a participant die within the locker room. That first 12 months was not solely a transition 12 months for a foul soccer workforce, we had the primary decide within the draft. …. So, after a whilst you do type of get your head on a swivel whenever you journey to Mexico Metropolis. I am considering, OK, we’re doing numerous issues for the primary time on this season and so what is going on to be subsequent? I bear in mind considering to myself, ‘My gosh, I bit off much more than I can chew.’
The week of preparation main as much as the Cardinals/49ers sport at Estadio Azteca was like no different for each organizations, who confronted new protocols for safety, uncommon circumstances across the location of resorts, and one other aspect some gamers and workers had did not account for — the altitude, with Mexico Metropolis over 7,200 ft above sea stage.
NOLAN: Our folks made a visit down prior. As anybody would do, you ship the entire crew down, they go for 4 or 5 days, I am speaking about months prematurely. After which they plan it out. However as a coach, all I bear in mind once we obtained there, it was type of fascinating. The aircraft flies in, we’re taxiing and there is armed troopers throughout the aircraft. Even once we have been taxiing the final a part of the taxi, all of them obtained automated weapons.
BERRY: They informed us to depart jewellery, wedding ceremony rings, something of worth at dwelling as a result of on the time that they have been having a lot of kidnappings and it was simply not a really secure time in Mexico Metropolis. So, mainly, our radius was our resort and the one subsequent to us. That was about it. Yeah, we could not go anyplace with out some type of associate or some type of supervision. You simply weren’t going to have the ability to depart the resort for any purpose.
NOLAN: Principally, their military is defending the aircraft. And in order that made me really feel safe. And we get off the aircraft and we’re escorted onto these buses, after which we have got this escort that drives us to the resort. As quickly as we get to the resort, everyone seems to be single-file into this huge room. All of the workforce sits down and the DEA proceeds to inform us what we are able to and may’t do.
GONZALEZ: In New York, [the NFL has] a safety workforce that works along with native safety groups. And we had a safety workforce from Mexico they usually already knew about massive intelligence businesses just like the CIA or the FBI, for which they already knew the codes and protocols.
RACKERS: They only wished us to verify we stayed on the identical block to the place our resorts have been positioned, stuff like that. The police uniform’s so much completely different in Mexico than in the US. That was somewhat intimidating however apart from that, we weren’t too anxious. The NFL safety type of took care of us whereas we have been down there.
GONZALEZ: A challenge of this dimension takes virtually a 12 months to arrange, and we needed to get it out in eight months. The final two weeks we solely had a mean of three hours of sleep, however that was once we finalized coordination with the native safety workforce, with the safety workforce that got here from the US, or the personal safety of some celebrities.
CANTU: I keep in mind that week very vividly. I met [Grammy Award-winning band] Los Tigres del Norte on the Intercontinental Resort. I used to be giving a press convention they usually thought I used to be a musician. They stared at me, they have been in a personal part, and I needed to eat in entrance of them. I knew who they have been, however they requested me who I used to be. I had the possibility to [visit] all of the TV stations in Mexico, to people who traveled from the U.S. It was a really busy schedule. I did neighborhood relations occasions, camps and clinics. It was a three-day nonstop media blitz. It was all about selling the sport, and I needed to undergo all of that. But it surely was a pleasure and an act of affection, to have the ability to communicate in entrance of a digital camera.
LARRY FITZGERALD, CARDINALS WIDE RECEIVER (2004-20): I simply bear in mind Rolando Cantu was the most well-liked man in the entire metropolis.
CLANCY PENDERGAST, CARDINALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR (2004-08): The largest concern going into the sport was the altitude. We have been involved about that getting into due to the conditioning stage and that kind of factor. So it was crucial for gamers, going into the sport, staying hydrated and issues that you just do whenever you’re enjoying in greater elevation.
NOLAN: One of many issues I bear in mind too is there was a live performance, I am unable to bear in mind if it was all three nights or simply the night time earlier than the sport, however that they had this large all-through-the-night live performance proper outdoors our resort and I am speaking like a serious live performance. I am speaking about 100,000 or extra folks. And it was proper subsequent door to the resort and it was so loud, I do not suppose anybody on the workforce even slept. … it was the worst night time. I could not consider it. I believed, how might we ever haven’t been conscious of this or no matter. And I used to be actually pissed on the time about that. … I am telling you it was, you could not put a pillow over your head and preserve the noise down. It was that loud.
RACKERS: I actually loved it. Our resort had a very nice park in entrance of it. Numerous the large sponsors had gone with us, so being there that early, I used to be capable of spend somewhat little bit of time with numerous the Cardinal sponsors. However we have been additionally in entrance of the place all of the tour buses picked up and stuff, so it was, it was actually cool to type of, people-watch and see how they function there. I feel there was a live performance occurring throughout the road which apparently, they’ve each Sunday. It was only a cool atmosphere. It is a very close-knit neighborhood, very family-oriented down in Mexico, so it is type of enjoyable to see how they work together.
FITZGERALD: [The altitude was] very, very powerful. The primary few days whenever you get to coaching camp in Flagstaff, you’d be sucking air. It was powerful to assimilate to it, simply strolling up the steps to your dorm room, you’d be like, ‘Rattling.’ It was powerful for me and I felt that very same manner [in Mexico City]. I bear in mind vividly, I used to be roommates with [fellow wide receiver] Sean Morey and the elevator was actually jammed up, so I simply took the steps to the fifth ground. I bear in mind getting to love the third ground and I used to be like, ‘That was a foul resolution on our half, Sean.’ We should always have waited for that f—ing elevator.’ I bear in mind simply huffing and puffing. We’re in the course of the season, each play broad receiver so we’re working on a regular basis. It isn’t like we’re not in ‘prime 1% of individuals on the planet’ form, you realize? And nonetheless climbing these stairs, it made you understand that altitude was no joke.
RACKERS: The individuals are so grateful, so appreciative that you just’re there. That is what I seen essentially the most is that they’re pleasant, excited. The group on the sport was fairly fascinating as a result of they did not actually know who to root for. They have been simply excited that we have been there. The massive factor that I at all times seen is how a lot folks thanks for being there and the way grateful they’re that the NFL is taking the time to have occasions down in Mexico.
BERRY: We had somewhat little bit of a troublesome begin to the season and so we felt like we might get again on monitor towards San Fran, who we had actually had some success towards in like 2004 after which that 12 months. So, we felt good about what we have been doing and our possibilities of going on the market and being profitable. After which, once more, to be the primary to do one thing. I imply, I at all times stated, ‘Hey, if you are going to be the primary, hey, set the bar excessive.’
Each the 49ers and Cardinals entered Week 4 of the 2005 NFL season in search of momentum. The 49ers have been sitting at 1-2 in Nolan’s first season, with requires the workforce to bench beginning quarterback Tim Rattay (5 interceptions over the earlier two weeks) in favor of rookie and No. 1 general draft alternative Alex Smith rising louder. The Cardinals have been 0-3, and had misplaced beginning QB Kurt Warner to a proper groin damage the earlier week. For 2 groups that have been struggling, the pageantry across the sport appeared to have an energizing impact.
NOLAN: A number of the issues I believed have been type of neat have been, that they had numerous celebrities from Mexico Metropolis and round their nation that have been on the sport. It was an enormous deal. It was like a Tremendous Bowl could be for us, all the large names come out.
GONZALEZ: When sport day got here round, we have been coming off a really robust workflow. There had already been a really great amount of prior promotional occasions and we had already logged many hours of labor. … The day of the sport, I obtained up and stated, “Lord, not all the things has to go effectively.” I hoped it would not rain, that there would not be issues with the groups’ arrival to the stadium.
BERRY: The stadium was completely different as a result of it had the mosh pit [trench surrounding the playing surface] round it, and it had the barbed wire on prime of the stadium. In order that was somewhat completely different. I had by no means seen something like that. … In the US we’re fairly intense sports activities followers, however barbed wire was a special stage for us.
CANTU: It’s such a sense — it is like a gladiator getting into an area. All people knew I used to be going to be there, on the stadium. That day, [Cardinals coach] Dennis Inexperienced stored me near Kurt Warner, who was inactive that day. Many issues occurred that day. The U-17 nationwide soccer workforce was enjoying within the World Cup closing. Each time they scored, they performed the aim on the video display and other people cheered. The gamers did not perceive what was occurring and mainly, I needed to translate for them what was occurring.
LUIS ZENDEJAS, CARDINALS DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY RELATIONS (2001-19), FORMER NFL KICKER AND NATIVE OF MICHOACAN, MEXICO: I knew we had greater than 100,000 folks within the stadium, however I centered on one little group, the youngsters from Michoacan. There weren’t numerous cameras, [but] one of many youngsters introduced somewhat one and took some footage. But it surely was one thing particular. For me, the sport wasn’t that huge of a deal. What was an enormous deal was the folks, the Mexican folks, those who have been there. Once I return to Michoacan, the youngsters present me the issues they purchased on the stadium. They have been youngsters again then, now they’re males.
RACKERS: They have been chanting for the Niners. I consider there’s numerous 49ers followers as a result of earlier than the sport they have been type of chanting “San Francisco.” However then when [Cardinals safety] Robert Griffith ran out with the Mexican flag, that modified fairly shortly.
GONZALEZ: Luis Zendejas, who at the moment was a part of the organizational construction of the Cardinals, and who had been a kicker and whose two brothers had been kickers as effectively, stated, ‘We want a component that actually rocks everybody and makes them establish with each other.’ And he had an excellent concept. He stated, ‘I want a Mexican flag.’ At the moment, there was an individual who ran Estadio Azteca, known as Carmelita. I do not know the place she obtained the flag from. They went to get the flag and gave it to one of many Cardinals gamers. And when he went out onto the sphere, it resulted in an iconic picture as a result of he runs out waving the flag. That was a really emotional second.
ZENDEJAS: Michael Bidwill had requested me what we are able to do, what we are able to convey. You must perceive that the Cardinals weren’t favored in that sport, they weren’t the fan favourite both. It was essential to work with the neighborhood and all that, and I informed them to placed on the U-17 match on the stadium and to come back out with the Mexican flag, as a result of it is in regards to the respect you are going to present. I stated, “Do not come out with an American flag or something like that.” The 49ers’ proprietor was upset about that, but it surely’s a matter of respect.
RACKERS: It was superb. We could not even actually have a pregame speak as a result of folks have been stomping within the stands and within the locker room you’ve got type of the cutouts for the steps or the ceiling, so the entire locker room was simply shaking and loud, so we could not hear, we could not actually hear something earlier than the sport. Aside from the NFC Championship Recreation in Arizona, it was the loudest sport I used to be ever part of.
GONZALEZ: I needed to stroll from the press field to the pitch about 10 instances, and after I was at pitch stage, and would hear that scream, it was actually spectacular. That is after I realized that it had additionally made a robust impression on the coaches and gamers.
PENDERGAST: It was simply actually an electrical crowd. There was over 100,000 folks there. They cheered relentlessly all through the entire sport.
WILSON: It was superior. There isn’t any different method to describe it. I would been to Estadio Azteca for a lot of video games. I would been there for Membership America [soccer] video games, I have been to U.S. vs. Mexico [men’s national team soccer] video games, clearly NFL preseason video games and to this sport — so to me, it wasn’t any completely different so far as the expertise.
Regardless of the pro-Cardinals enthusiasm ignited by Griffith’s flag-bearing, it was the 49ers who obtained off to the short begin, scoring touchdowns on a fumble restoration in the long run zone by linebacker Derek Smith and a 78-yard fumble return by cornerback Derrick Johnson to stake San Francisco to a 14-0 first-quarter lead. The 49ers wouldn’t rating once more, as Rattay and the offense struggled to maintain drives and left Nolan with a troublesome QB resolution. In the meantime, Arizona backup QB Josh McCown (32-of-46 passing, 385 yards, 2 TDs) and wideouts Anquan Boldin (8 receptions, 116 yards,1 TD) and Fitzgerald (7 receptions, 102 yards, 1 TD) moved the Cardinals, although it was the kicker, Rackers, who would have a profession sport at Estadio Azteca, connecting on a career-high six subject objectives within the eventual 31-14 win.
BERRY: I bear in mind the primary two drives. I imply, I bear in mind the offense having two turnovers and we’re trying up and we’re down 14-0 earlier than we ever touched the sphere. On the protection, we’re like, “What the hell’s occurring right here? Like, that is the 49ers now. We’re not imagined to be down 14-0 to those guys.” … And we’re all type of taking a look at one another on the defensive facet, like, “All proper, I assume we gotta go win this factor ourselves.” So we went out with much more focus and resolve and, and as soon as the offense was capable of do what they wanted to do, and we did what we did, we had a fairly good time and I bear in mind having a fairly good sport myself.
NOLAN: It was a packed home. I didn’t know that once they whistle, which means they need issues to choose up. Issues are going sluggish, it is like a soccer factor. If that is the reality and I am correct in what I am saying, I bear in mind infrequently, all people within the crowd would begin whistling that means, “Hey, that is sluggish.” However I did not know that on the time. I simply heard the whistling considering, “Nicely, I’m wondering what which means?” However I bear in mind there was over 100,000 folks I feel on the sport, which was large and 100,000 individuals are whistling. It is somewhat completely different.
RACKERS: In warm-ups we hit [field goals] from 75. After which Denny Inexperienced informed me we have been going to attempt a 72-yarder in the course of the sport, however then we obtained a third-and-13 conversion, so we did not find yourself doing that. It is positively a confidence increase whenever you’re sitting at distances like that after which opening drive, you get out for a 47-yarder, it appears fairly shut at that time.
FITZGERALD: I bear in mind getting punched within the mouth early within the sport. I bear in mind, I feel they jumped out on us 14-0, after which Anquan [Boldin] and Josh [McCown] obtained us began and I made a pair performs and our protection helped shut it out.
RACKERS: It simply was numerous enjoyable. There was numerous pleasure. I used to be clearly capable of get on the sphere so much. It felt good to have followers that put numerous inventory within the subject aim a part of the sport and the kicking a part of the sport.
BERRY: I felt dangerous as a result of it was towards my boy [49ers offensive tackle] Anthony Clement, who we have been teammates the 12 months earlier than. You hate to have these type of video games towards folks that you just genuinely like, and I genuinely favored AC, however we each had a job to do and I used to be going to do my job. It was the start of [No. 1 pick] Alex Smith’s time because the quarterback as a result of Tim Rattay was a starter they usually took him out after which Alex Smith obtained his time. And, so, I bear in mind getting a sack on each these guys. So, it was a superb time. Like as soon as we obtained to the second half, we have been capable of type of actually set up ourselves on all three phases of the sport. And it was enjoyable for us. I am unable to communicate for San Fran, however I do know we had numerous enjoyable.
With the sport slipping away, Nolan made the fateful name to go to Smith, who would log the primary of three,250 profession completions at Estadio Azteca earlier than occurring to make his first NFL begin the next week. Smith was 6-of-10 passing for 34 yards within the sport however would largely battle all through his rookie 12 months for a workforce that completed 4-12.
NOLAN: There was a complete factor of when do you play [Smith]? When do not you play him? I can bear in mind calling Peyton Manning after the draft. We had [selected] Alex. And I stated, “Look, what’s your tackle enjoying a man early versus not?” Nicely clearly, he performed early when he was a rookie and he strongly steered “play him early, get the expertise,” that is what sort of helped me. … But when Alex, [who] was very younger — he was 20 once we drafted him — was the identical character and energy as Peyton Manning, then that is then that is a superb man to hearken to. However he wasn’t the identical type of man. He was a man that was very younger. He wasn’t close to the assured person who Peyton was. And so, it was a mistake to play him an excessive amount of too early as a result of he wanted to be introduced alongside otherwise.
After we talked about enjoying Alex early we have been sluggish to do it for good purpose. I did not wanna break him and scare him, however the issue that occurred was we have been so dangerous, so few gamers, it was we had actually no alternative however to say, “Look, we gotta discover a method to win some video games. Let’s simply go together with the younger man and see what we are able to do.”
RACKERS: The great half for me was usually folks go to the concession stand throughout a subject aim, however in Mexico a subject aim is an enormous deal as a result of they just like the kicking a part of the sport. It was type of good — the cheers for subject objectives down there. After which after the sport, the opposite expertise I had was, normally a kicker does a press convention with on the most 15 to twenty reporters they usually requested me to come back into this room and there have been about 500 reporters and I needed to actually compose myself earlier than that, as a result of I walked in and the look on my face was type of like, whoa. So, that was type of a cool expertise as effectively.
CANTU: It was fairly a sport; we have been dropping, and we ended up with the win. It was a watershed second for us, to begin nurturing a fan base in Mexico.
The profitable occasion in Mexico Metropolis would supply proof of idea for a league that may go on to formally announce the formation of the NFL Worldwide Collection starting in 2007 with a New York Giants win over the Miami Dolphins from Wembley Stadium in London. The league wouldn’t return to Mexico till 2016 however is ready to play for the fourth time in seven seasons from Estadio Azteca with an encore of the Cardinals/49ers matchup. The league additionally expanded its Worldwide Collection into Germany starting this season.
WILSON: I am immensely happy with it. It is a defining second for the NFL and the Worldwide Collection. This 12 months there are what, [five] video games abroad? There’s [five] video games, and the worldwide spherical of video games has taken on a stage of significance that actually did not exist when it first occurred.
FITZGERALD: I bear in mind Robert Griffith working out of that tunnel with that Mexican flag, and I would by no means seen or performed in entrance of that many individuals. These are the issues that stood out to me. It was an honor to have the ability to type of have the primary [regular-season] worldwide sport and be part of some actually cool historical past, particularly as I see the sport broaden into Germany and to London and hopefully continues to try this.
CANTU: The flag [carried by Robert Griffith] was loaned to us by the Estadio Azteca and its workers. [Former Cardinal travel liaison] Anthony [Edwards] and Luis Zendejas went to provide the flag to Griffith. The flag belonged to the stadium, and we needed to return it. That flag, I did not know, but it surely was subsequent to me. It was stored on the bench. After the victory, Griffith grabbed it once more and he ran with it all around the subject. Then, he offers it to me, and I take it to the locker room and when Dennis Inexperienced congratulates us, it is throughout and we depart. I left the flag, however the water boy noticed it with me and thought it was mine. He put it in my bag. I had the concept the flag was misplaced. However in the course of the pandemic, I used to be shopping the containers — there are 120 of them — of stuff I’ve stored all through my profession, which I preserve in my storage. My spouse discovered the flag and right here it’s.
WILSON: When the Colts performed in London in 2015 or 2016, I went to that sport as effectively and I had an actual sense of non-public pleasure, due to what this had change into. The merchandising in London [outside the stadium] was in all probability 100 yards lengthy, screens exhibiting what was offered out, and what I feel is nice about it’s NFL followers normally, it does not need to be a selected workforce. What it does is increase the profile and provides extra to the followers abroad, it is huge. It was an enormous first step, an essential step and one which has clearly grown and advanced now with the truth that groups can choose in for his or her rights abroad. That wasn’t the case after I was in Mexico, however now they will purchase out and in of these and market in sure nations in the event that they wish to primarily based on that bid course of. It is come a good distance, and it is nice.
GONZALEZ: It was a watershed second as a result of in actuality, no regular-season video games had been performed outdoors of the continental United States. So it was a type of check, and I feel the consequence was actually satisfying in some ways.
CANTU: It is superb how life comes round. Now, I am a part of the [Cardinals] board and I come to Estadio Azteca with the identical pleasure. To have the ability to journey once more, to dwell this expertise, and to face the 49ers once more — it is superb. It was introduced, canceled because of the pandemic after which we obtained again to it. It has been an extended journey, however I am blissful to be part of it. I’ve been concerned in draft events and clinics for teenagers in Mexico Metropolis and all around the nation; we have been to observe events in Mexico, and our followers are excited to welcome the workforce in Mexico. As we speak it is all completely different with social media. There may be an instantaneous reference to NFL followers as a result of there’s extra interplay.
GONZALEZ: I feel it was an excellent guess, due to Will’s imaginative and prescient. From my perspective, the concept started with Will Wilson.
ZENDEJAS: It is stunning that the workforce is doing Monday Evening Soccer once more. They will play at Azteca, however the one destructive for me is, why did it take so lengthy [for the Cardinals] to return? What was the hesitation? We have to put an NFL workforce down there. There are followers already in place. It is a two-hour flight from Dallas to play towards the Cowboys, three to Miami, locations like that. As an alternative of England or these cities, a workforce in Mexico Metropolis, Monterrey or Guadalajara could be higher. It will be nice for the youngsters, the thought that they might play professionally.
BERRY: In fact that they had NFL Europe and all that type of great things. So technically we weren’t the primary, however so far as [regular-season] NFL video games, it was thrilling to be the primary.
ESPN reporters Alfonso Mancilla, Eric Gomez, Josh Weinfuss and Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.