Raiders, not Cowboys, drawing Mexico's fancy
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The "Bad Boys" from Oakland made a good first impression on Mexico's football fans. Dallas then promised them a long-delayed look of Emmitt Smith.
Raiders fans outnumbered Cowboys followers Sunday as the teams got a look -- or at least a glimpse at the part of the field not covered by a tarp during a drizzling rain -- at 112,000-seat Azteca Stadium, where they will play Monday night in an NFL exhibition game.
Cowboy coaches had earlier said they would probably keep Smith out of the game, as they did in three earlier trips by the Cowboys to Mexico, to avoid the risk of an injury to the running back.
But Smith told a news conference Sunday night that "fans were kind of excited about me playing, so the coaches finally pulled the trigger and allowed me to come out and play."
He said he would be there "unless something drastic happens."
In past years, "something drastic" was pregame rain that made the turf slippery, and more rain was forecast for Monday.
It's the sixth time since 1978 the NFL has brought a preseason game to Mexico City. Soccer is king here, but NFL games are popular on television and local football teams have a decent following.
Mexico's most famous sprinter, Alejandro Cardenas, recently joined a team in the country's main football league and 125,000 children play in an NFL-sponsored touch-football program.
"We're very optimistic about the future of the sport here," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "There are millions of fans in Mexico."
The Cowboys and their cheerleaders have long been fan favorites here, aiming marketing toward Mexico and taking part in earlier preseason American Bowls.
But it was the Raiders -- known locally as the "Malosos," or "Bad Boys" -- who seemed to charm the crowd this year, with silver and black the predominant colors among about 500 fans who turned out Sunday.
The security-conscious Cowboys shunned fans on their arrival Saturday evening at a hotel one newspaper described as a "bunker." Raiders stars, meanwhile, signed autographs and joked with children.
"Which bad boys?" asked a headline in the newspaper Reforma.
The newspaper Milenio called it "a first triumph" for the Raiders, and complained that "the Dallas Cowboys opted to hide and avoid any contact with Mexican people."
The sports newspaper Ovaciones chided the Cowboys as "divas."
Raiders tight end Roland Williams joked with a girl who handed him a Cowboys helmet to sign: "No, no, no. I'm with the Raiders. I'm one of the good guys."
The massive soccer shrine offers the chance for fans to make themselves felt.
"With 100,000 people here, I'm sure this is going to be a loud game," Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert said.
With the Sept. 9 start of the regular season approaching, the teams were trying to get in and out of Mexico City as quickly as possible, both planning to leave immediately after the game.
Cowboys rookie quarterback Quincy Carter, who has struggled in the preseason, will be trying to find his balance while trying to catch his breath at the 7,350-foot altitude.
"I certainly felt it," he said. "I was breathing pretty hard during the practice. But I think during the game, when the adrenaline's going, there's not going to be any problem."
For Mexican fans, it's a rare chance to see top-level football players in person, even in an exhibition game.
"It's always been popular here," Raiders fan Eduardo Aguilar said. "The thing that's changing is that the NFL is finally taking notice.
"Some of us Mexican fans can't go to the United States, and for all of us, it costs a lot of money to go there."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones suggested he might sponsor an Arena Football team in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey in 2003 or 2004.