On this day in Latinx history: Cardinals and 49ers play game in Mexico City
Estadio Azteca hosted the first NFL regular-season game played outside the United States
Arizona Cardinals safety Robert Griffith burst onto the Estadio Azteca field waving the Mexican flag like a wild man on Oct. 2, 2005.
Griffith was greeted by 103,467 fans, the largest crowd to attend a regular-season game in NFL history, who came from all over Mexico to see the first NFL regular-season game played outside the United States. The previous NFL record for a regular-season game was when the Los Angeles Rams played the San Francisco 49ers at the L.A. Coliseum on Nov. 10, 1957, in front of 102,368 spectators.
Fans in Mexico witnessed Josh McCown pass for a career-high 385 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinals’ 31-14 victory. Neil Rackers kicked a career-best six field goals for the Cardinals, and No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith took his first regular-season snaps for the 49ers. Rackers, who missed the NFL record for made field goals in a game by one, discussed the importance of playing in the U.S.’ southern neighbor’s capital.
“The experience in Mexico City has been wonderful, and this capped it off,” he told The Associated Press. “It was wonderful. They’re great fans, really into the game, more knowledgeable than I thought they would be. It was probably the best crowd I’ve been around.”
At an altitude approximately 2,000 feet higher than Denver’s, Rackers connected from 40, 45, 48, 23, 43 and 24 yards. Arizona decided not to attempt a late field goal to tie the league record held by four players.
“I’d rather be a gentleman and not kick a field goal against a team we’ve got to play again this season,” Rackers told the AP.
To make history happen, the Cardinals agreed to give up a home game, but they were paid in kind, as they played in front of 68,398 more fans than they had playing against San Francisco in Sun Devil Stadium in 2004. The weekend before, the NFL projected that about 70,000 fans would be in attendance because just 65,000 seats had been sold.
The game was between two of the worst teams that season, as both came in with 1-3 records.
Niners fans were sorely disappointed by the team’s offense, as two fumble recoveries by Derek Smith and rookie Derrick Johnson in the first quarter gave the team its points. Smith returned a Cardinals fumble on the first play of the game, and Johnson took his 78 yards to the house later in the same quarter.
Arizona blanked San Francisco the rest of the evening, scoring 31 unanswered points. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin hauled in touchdowns to help the Cardinals avenge their two overtime losses to the 49ers in 2004.
“I think people wanted to be a part of the action, and as long as they kept coming, the stadium had a seat for them,” Arizona coach Dennis Green said.
The NFL opened an eight-person office in Mexico in 1998 to monitor and oversee the game’s growth. At the time, nearly 1 in 5 Mexicans claimed an interest in the league. The upper deck was the lone place where one could find an empty seat in the stadium.
On Aug. 15, 1994, Estadio Azteca hosted a preseason American Bowl game between the Houston Oilers and Dallas Cowboys that the Oilers won 6-0. That game still holds the record for the highest attendance at any NFL game (112,376).
“Fans around the world can take notice of the way these people are, their passion about the game,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “It was exciting to play the game for both teams today, and they certainly latched on to the team that was ahead at the end, because early on we had them on our side.”
Nine years after the Cardinals-49ers game, the Oakland Raiders played the Houston Texans in the first Monday Night Football game played outside of the United States. That game was a sellout crowd, as 76,743 people packed into the newly renovated Estadio Azteca.
The Raiders return to host the New England Patriots this season on Nov. 19 in the first “NFL Mexico Game.”