MEXICO CITY – Huge cities tend to swallow a big event without a belch.
It’s just one more of thousands of things to see, hear, feel, touch and taste. Hosting a Super Bowl, for example, is a much bigger deal for Phoenix than it is for New York.
A bit of that feeling was here before the Cardinals played the 49ers at the Estadio Azteca on Monday night.
It’s a replay of the teams’ game from 2005, the first NFL regular-season game outside of the United States, and people are excited. But one after anonther. Sunday was Revolution Day in Mexico to commemorate the 112thth Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. There was a huge military parade through the center of town, less than a mile or so from the cardinals’ compound.
People filled the track and surrounding Chapultepec Park. Within the park is the famous National Museum of Anthropology and Chapultepec Castle. They too were packed with people enjoying the holiday and a perfect day with temperatures around 70 degrees.
fandtbol and soccer were also in the air. The World Cup kicked off on Sunday and bars and restaurants across the city advertised themselves as “the place to be”. Watch parties take place in Plaza de la República, the city’s famous public square.
The NFL is a city, too, and people pay attention to that, too. The stadium sold out quickly, and many people wore Cardinals and 49ers jerseys that weekend as they took over town.
At the Anthropolgy Museum, I met Cardinals season ticket holder Dustin Holmes, better known as the guy who dresses up as Kid Rock at every home game.
Holmes wore regular clothing including a JJ Watt jersey on Sunday. He and his wife originally scheduled this trip for 2020, but the pandemic forced the NFL to change its plans for international games.
“It was on our bucket list,” he said.
It appeared that there were more 49ers fans than Cardinals, meaning the game might not be a big home game for the Cardinals after all.
Scouting report:Arizona Cardinals-San Francisco 49ers football showdown Monday night in Mexico City
The Cardinals seem to be treating this as another long road trip, unlike their fans.
“It happens to be Mexico City,” said Tackle Kelvin Beachum.
The Cardinals (4-6) beat the Rams last week, and a second straight win over an NFC West opponent followed by a win next week against the Chargers could change their season. That would be three wins in a row going into her week off.
“We could come out of the bye humming,” Beachum said.
The Cardinals arrived Saturday night, and according to players, not much sightseeing was planned. However, they seemed excited about the trip.
“When I was with the Raiders, we played in Mexico City,” said cornerback Antonio Hamilton. “I have to leave the country for the first time in my life. I can play. And I get paid. It’s a win-win situation.”
Mexico City’s elevation of 7,349 feet was of more importance to the Cardinals than sightseeing. After much study, the team decided to stay in the Valley to prepare for the game rather than move operations to higher ground.
The 49ers did the opposite. They spent most of the week in Colorado Springs where they struggled with freezing conditions.
Which strategy was correct?
Former Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald didn’t recall that height was a big issue in the Cardinals’ win 17 years ago, but at the time it was only his second NFL season.
“Nothing bothers you at 22,” he said.
The NFL is not a newcomer to Mexico City. Seven preseason games have been played here since 1978 and Monday’s competition will be the fifth game of the regular season.
In 2005, 103,467 people watched the Cardinals vs. 49ers game, setting an NFL attendance record that has since been broken.
The fanbase here, Beachum said, “knows what they’re seeing.”
It’s no surprise that soccer has become Mexico’s second most popular sport, behind soccer. Ball and score games are ingrained in the culture. How deep I found out during a tour of the Anthropological Museum.
According to one exhibit, people in ancient Mesoamerica played a sacred game called “ullamaliztli.” It showed a ball bouncing and being “deftly” moved by players on an “I” shaped playing surface.
Propelled from the hips or forearms, the ball had to be passed through stone rings to score. The stakes were high. When a play was performed that ran counter to the movement of the sun, “a beheading was performed, and the blood quickened the earth and the sun.”
And we thought that a lot depends on the outcome of the game on Monday night.
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