Mexico City NFL game may be start of something big
Posted: Wednesday September 28, 2005 4:41PM; Updated: Wednesday September 28, 2005 6:52PM
Even with Kurt Warner out, the Cardinals and their injured QB will find more fans in Mexico City than they have in Tempe, Ariz.
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When San Francisco strong safety Tony Parrish arrived in Mexico City last July to hype his team's imminent road game there against Arizona, the reception was different than any he had experienced deplaning in, say, St. Louis or Seattle. "From the moment I landed I was signing autographs," says Parrish, one of the league's more anonymous stars. "Even while I was waiting for my flight [to Monterrey, Mex.], people started coming up to me with 49ers hats and photos of me."
The warm welcome seems to only reinforce what the NFL has been trying to tell us for years -- that soon football will no longer be played solely for the delight of fans in the Continental United States. Sunday's historic Niners-Cardinals matchup at Estadio Azteca will be the first time a regular-season contest is held on foreign soil (save for New Jersey). Any ensuing success could bring new meaning to the word "expansion."
When the game was unveiled on the 2005 schedule last spring, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue declared the NFL might "look to play an international game, maybe on an annual basis, and rotate that around to some markets that have an interest globally."
The league has had more than half a century to test the international waters. Since 1950, the NFL has held 55 preseason games in nine countries, including Ireland, Australia and Canada, where league franchises were pitted against their CFL counterparts on seven occasions. But none of those sites can hold a candle to Mexico City, its 17 million residents dwarfing the current No. 1 market -- New York City and its 8 million residents. All three of the preseason games held in Mexico City have drawn revelers in the hundreds of thousands. The crowd of 112,376 that watched the Dallas Cowboys against the Houston Oilers in '94 remains the largest in NFL history.
Though futbol still reigns supreme as the country's No. 1 sport a decade later, football, it would appear, is holding its own. Recent NFL surveys credit Mexico with the largest fanbase (20 million) outside of this country, most of them Cowboys, Steelers and 49ers fans -- which explains how San Fran landed an invite.