Long before the NFL staged regular-season games outside of the United States, it dipped its toes into international waters in what it called “The American Bowl.”
From 1986-2005, the league played 40 preseason games under the American Bowl banner, with matchups as close as Montreal and Mexico City to as far away as Tokyo and London. Those games didn’t matter in the standings but they meant plenty to a league that was trying to expand its global reach.
After all that experimentation, the NFL decided in 2005 that it was going to stop wading in the shallow end and dive into international games headfirst. So it was that the Arizona Cardinals hosted the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City, the first regular-season NFL game not played in the United States.
The Cardinals beat the Niners 31-14 on Oct. 2, 2005, at Estadio Azteca. With 103,467 fans, it set the attendance record for a regular-season game that stood for almost four seasons. The game itself wasn’t particularly memorable for what happened on the field but still holds plenty of importance in what it meant for the league.
For proof, look no further than Monday night’s matchup (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), where the Cardinals and 49ers will meet at the same place they opened the regular-season international door more than 17 years earlier. In that time, the league has played 43 regular-season games outside of the U.S.
Of course, the NFL’s first international regular-season foray didn’t come without hurdles. Whether it was players pursuing passports for the first time, lengthy meetings with the Drug Enforcement Administration or loud concerts outside the team hotels the night before the game, there were plenty of obstacles both foreseeable and unpredictable.
Here is the story of how the NFL’s first regular-season international game came to be, as told by those who put it together, played in it and coached in it:
WILL WILSON, FORMER DIRECTOR, NFL MEXICO: I was originally in Frankfurt with the [NFL Europe franchise] Galaxy and I ended up in Edinburgh, I was there for seven years and the last three years I ran the team. As part of being in NFL International, the opportunity presented itself for me to run the business in Mexico. My boss at the time put that on my plate, probably because I lived there before, so they assumed I’d be able to go down there and figure it out. My wife is Australian, we met in Edinburgh, and for us it was — why not? We didn’t have any kids at the time, we were recently married, we were both living in different countries than where we were from, so we moved to Mexico in 2000, and I started running the business at that point in time.
GERALDINE GONZALEZ, FORMER PR & COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER, NFL MÉXICO: There was a team called the Scottish Claymores, and Will Wilson was working there. He had a connection with Mexico, because he had spent some of his adolescence studying here. His father at that time was an executive at a very important international company, so Will already knew a little about our ways, which was what we liked.
WILSON: The American Bowl games in Mexico were successful, [but] we were starting to see them struggle in other markets. They were starting to taper off a little bit and there was a sense that the model was getting tired or needed something new. And that fans wanted more — they were looking for more than a preseason game in international markets. I think it was probably 15 or 20 years of American Bowl games before we got to the regular-season game [in Mexico City]. It was always one of those far-fetched ideas that was out there, I don’t recall the exact moment that it really [became] something to dig into. But me and my staff worked with the strategy folks in New York and started to look at what it would look like, how it could work and what the business case would be, what we’d need to think about if we were to make it happen. That was certainly in that 2003 range when it started to pick up steam, and dig in, to see how we could pull it off.
GONZALEZ: Every time a regular-season game is played away from the home of the team that would have to host it, then you lose that game, and you lose concessions, parking money, everything from food sales, everything from merchandise sales. It is said that you “lose,” because you are not at home. And that is why it was a must to figure out how to transfer all that to a different market, because although Mexico is a market of great consumption, it is a different market.
WILSON: The first big challenge was just getting everyone to agree to do it. I remember being on a call with strategy folks in New York and my boss in New York, we’d done all this work on how we’d pull it off and what it would take. And I remember saying, ‘If we don’t do this, we’re going to regret this forever.’ Something to that effect. We’re at this point, let’s pull the trigger and let’s go. That was hurdle number one. Doing all the work to get folks comfortable with pulling the trigger. That was a lot of where my efforts were. After that it was ‘which teams and how do we figure that out?’ A team would have to lose a home game, and that was back in that point of time, unheard of.
GONZALEZ: Then it was brought forth and discussed at some of the owners’ meetings that take place every year. At that time the 49ers and the Cardinals were in low spirits. The Cardinals are one of the oldest teams in the league and because of their geographical proximity, because of everything that was taking place, from the presence of Mexican players in the development league, as well as those who had been in NFL Europe — including Rolando Cantú, who had already been on Arizona’s practice squad — an opportunity was seen there.
ROLANDO CANTU, CARDINALS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (2004-06) AND NATIVE OF MONTERREY, MEXICO: I was on the practice squad in 2004, got cut, and they signed me back again. The schedule for 2005 was then released, and I remember very well that I had a great training camp that year and they told me I was doing very well. I did excellently. When the final 53-man rosters were announced, they cut me but told me they would sign me back for the practice squad. I had a chance to be in the game in Mexico and debut there. I didn’t [play], but I had the chance to be there.
WILSON: I give the Cardinals a lot of credit for taking the challenge and doing it. Folks within the league in New York really had to drive the effort to figure out which team and who to talk to as far as the ownership groups. Logistic things came into play too, like time zones, travel — how far are they going to have to travel — that’s why I think Mexico was such an attractive country, it wasn’t going to have to be a big trip. Relatively easy from a time zone perspective. A lot of that went into the calculus, and at the time, the [Cardinals] felt like they’d be willing to give up a home game as long as it made sense for them economically to come down and play. Geographically, they’re pretty close.
MIKE NOLAN, 49ERS COACH (2005-08): I remember we had a meeting, [team owner] John York and I in the meeting. He said, “Do you want to play in Mexico City or do you want to play in the Hall of Fame game?” And I said … I really don’t want an extra game in the preseason my first year. I would rather just play the in-season game in Mexico City. And I also thought from a fan standpoint, the 49ers have a lot of fans down there. I didn’t know at the time who we’d play, but we ended up playing Arizona. That’s how I remember it began.
BERTRAND BERRY, CARDINALS DEFENSIVE END (2004-09): The first thing I remember was a lot of our guys didn’t have passports. So that, first off, was something I found very interesting. With all of the players we had on the squad, there was a long line to get passports and I just remember thinking like, ‘Man, we hadn’t been anywhere. We hadn’t done anything other than play football our whole lives.’
GONZALEZ: Oct, 2, the date on which the game was to be held, is a date that in Mexico we have to take with great respect, due to the historical events (Tlatelolco Massacre) of which we are well aware here, but that we had to make clear to our colleagues in the United States. Yes, the pros and cons were weighed, but it was decided that we had to go ahead because we had to accept that we offer a show and a reason for fun. So, rather than focusing on the not-so-favorable issue because of the meaning of the date, we chose to offer an alternative and say, ‘Today, Oct. 2, there are also reasons for celebrating.’
BERRY: I just had a good feeling about the whole thing. I wasn’t one of those guys apprehensive about it. I was excited. I always liked doing stuff that nobody had ever done. So to me it was, ‘Hey, bring it on. Let’s go shine in Mexico. Let’s go bring some Cardinals fans back with us from across the border.’
NEIL RACKERS, CARDINALS KICKER (2003-09): I thought it was pretty cool. I was a little nervous about the environment and kind of what to expect, as far as the game goes. But then again, growing up as a soccer player, I was really excited to get to play on a professional soccer field.
BERRY: There was definitely some apprehension and is this the right thing to do and why are we doing this now and why wasn’t this a preseason game? I mean, there was lots of conversation.
NOLAN: When I first got the Niner job, in my first preseason game, we had a player die in the locker room. That first year was not only a transition year for a bad football team, we had the first pick in the draft. …. So, after a while you do kind of get your head on a swivel when you travel to Mexico City. I’m thinking, OK, we’re doing a lot of things for the first time in this season and so what’s going to be next? I remember thinking to myself, ‘My gosh, I bit off a lot more than I can chew.’
The week of preparation leading up to the Cardinals/49ers game at Estadio Azteca was like no other for both organizations, who faced new protocols for security, unusual circumstances around the location of hotels, and another element some players and staff had failed to account for — the altitude, with Mexico City over 7,200 feet above sea level.
NOLAN: Our people made a trip down prior. As anyone would do, you send the whole crew down, they go for four or five days, I’m talking about months in advance. And then they plan it out. But as a coach, all I remember when we got there, it was kind of interesting. The plane flies in, we’re taxiing and there’s armed soldiers all around the plane. Even when we were taxiing the last part of the taxi, they all got automatic weapons.
BERRY: They told us to leave jewelry, wedding rings, anything of value at home because at the time that they were having lots of kidnappings and it was just not a very safe time in Mexico City. So, basically, our radius was our hotel and the one next to us. That was about it. Yeah, we couldn’t go anywhere without some sort of partner or some sort of supervision. You just weren’t going to be able to leave the hotel for any reason.
NOLAN: Basically, their army is protecting the plane. And so that made me feel secure. And we get off the plane and we’re escorted onto these buses, and then we’ve got this escort that drives us to the hotel. As soon as we get to the hotel, everyone is single-file into this big room. All the team sits down and the DEA proceeds to tell us what we can and can’t do.
GONZALEZ: In New York, [the NFL has] a security team that works in conjunction with local security teams. And we had a security team from Mexico and they already knew about large intelligence agencies like the CIA or the FBI, for which they already knew the codes and protocols.
RACKERS: They just wanted us to make sure we stayed on the same block to where our hotels were located, stuff like that. The police uniform’s a lot different in Mexico than in the United States. That was a little intimidating but other than that, we weren’t too worried. The NFL security kind of took care of us while we were down there.
GONZALEZ: A project of this size takes practically a year to organize, and we had to get it out in eight months. The last two weeks we only had an average of three hours of sleep, but that was when we finalized coordination with the local security team, with the security team that came from the United States, or the private security of some celebrities.
CANTU: I remember that week very vividly. I met [Grammy Award-winning band] Los Tigres del Norte at the Intercontinental Hotel. I was giving a press conference and they thought I was a musician. They stared at me, they were in a private section, and I had to eat in front of them. I knew who they were, but they asked me who I was. I had the chance to [visit] all the TV stations in Mexico, to those that traveled from the U.S. It was a very busy schedule. I did community relations events, camps and clinics. It was a three-day nonstop media blitz. It was all about promoting the game, and I had to go through all of that. But it was a pleasure and an act of love, to be able to speak in front of a camera.
LARRY FITZGERALD, CARDINALS WIDE RECEIVER (2004-20): I just remember Rolando Cantu was the most popular guy in the whole city.
CLANCY PENDERGAST, CARDINALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR (2004-08): The biggest concern going into the game was the altitude. We were concerned about that going in because of the conditioning level and that type of thing. So it was very important for players, going into the game, staying hydrated and things that you do when you’re playing in higher elevation.
NOLAN: One of the things I remember too is there was a concert, I can’t remember if it was all three nights or just the night before the game, but they had this huge all-through-the-night concert right outside our hotel and I’m talking like a major concert. I’m talking about 100,000 or more people. And it was right next door to the hotel and it was so loud, I don’t think anyone on the team even slept. … it was the worst night. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, how could we ever have not been aware of this or whatever. And I was really pissed at the time about that. … I’m telling you it was, you couldn’t put a pillow over your head and keep the noise down. It was that loud.
RACKERS: I really enjoyed it. Our hotel had a really nice park in front of it. A lot of the big sponsors had gone with us, so being there that early, I was able to spend a little bit of time with a lot of the Cardinal sponsors. But we were also in front of where all the tour buses picked up and stuff, so it was, it was really cool to kind of, people-watch and see how they operate there. I think there was a concert going on across the street which apparently, they have every Sunday. It was just a cool environment. It’s a very close-knit community, very family-oriented down in Mexico, so it’s kind of fun to see how they interact.
FITZGERALD: [The altitude was] very, very tough. The first few days when you get to training camp in Flagstaff, you would be sucking air. It was tough to assimilate to it, just walking up the stairs to your dorm room, you would be like, ‘Damn.’ It was tough for me and I felt that same way [in Mexico City]. I remember vividly, I was roommates with [fellow wide receiver] Sean Morey and the elevator was really jammed up, so I just took the stairs to the fifth floor. I remember getting to like the third floor and I was like, ‘That was a bad decision on our part, Sean.’ We should have waited for that f—ing elevator.’ I remember just huffing and puffing. We’re in the middle of the season, both play wide receiver so we’re running all the time. It’s not like we’re not in ‘top 1% of people in the world’ shape, you know? And still climbing those stairs, it made you realize that altitude was no joke.
RACKERS: The people are so grateful, so appreciative that you’re there. That’s what I noticed the most is they’re friendly, excited. The crowd at the game was pretty fascinating because they didn’t really know who to root for. They were just excited that we were there. The big thing that I always noticed is how much people thank you for being there and how grateful they are that the NFL is taking the time to have events down in Mexico.
BERRY: We had a little bit of a tough start to the season and so we felt like we could get back on track against San Fran, who we had really had some success against in like 2004 and then that year. So, we felt good about what we were doing and our chances of going out there and being successful. And then, again, to be the first to do something. I mean, I always said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to be the first, hey, set the bar high.’
Both the 49ers and Cardinals entered Week 4 of the 2005 NFL season seeking momentum. The 49ers were sitting at 1-2 in Nolan’s first season, with calls for the team to bench starting quarterback Tim Rattay (five interceptions over the previous two weeks) in favor of rookie and No. 1 overall draft choice Alex Smith growing louder. The Cardinals were 0-3, and had lost starting QB Kurt Warner to a right groin injury the previous week. For two teams that were struggling, the pageantry around the game seemed to have an energizing effect.
NOLAN: Some of the things I thought were kind of neat were, they had a lot of celebrities from Mexico City and around their country that were at the game. It was a big deal. It was like a Super Bowl would be for us, all the big names come out.
GONZALEZ: When game day came around, we were coming off a very strong workflow. There had already been a very large amount of prior promotional events and we had already logged many hours of work. … The day of the game, I got up and said, “Lord, not everything has to go well.” I was hoping it wouldn’t rain, that there wouldn’t be problems with the teams’ arrival to the stadium.
BERRY: The stadium was different because it had the mosh pit [trench surrounding the playing surface] around it, and it had the barbed wire on top of the stadium. So that was a little different. I had never seen anything like that. … In the United States we’re pretty intense sports fans, but barbed wire was a different level for us.
CANTU: It is such a feeling — it’s like a gladiator entering an arena. Everybody knew I was going to be there, at the stadium. That day, [Cardinals coach] Dennis Green kept me close to Kurt Warner, who was inactive that day. Many things happened that day. The U-17 national soccer team was playing in the World Cup final. Every time they scored, they played the goal on the video screen and people cheered. The players didn’t understand what was going on and basically, I had to translate for them what was going on.
LUIS ZENDEJAS, CARDINALS DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY RELATIONS (2001-19), FORMER NFL KICKER AND NATIVE OF MICHOACAN, MEXICO: I knew we had more than 100,000 people in the stadium, but I focused on one little group, the kids from Michoacan. There were not a lot of cameras, [but] one of the kids brought a little one and took some pictures. But it was something special. For me, the game wasn’t that big of a deal. What was a big deal was the people, the Mexican people, the ones who were there. When I go back to Michoacan, the kids show me the things they bought at the stadium. They were kids back then, now they’re men.
RACKERS: They were chanting for the Niners. I believe there’s a lot of 49ers fans because before the game they were kind of chanting “San Francisco.” But then when [Cardinals safety] Robert Griffith ran out with the Mexican flag, that changed pretty quickly.
GONZALEZ: Luis Zendejas, who at that time was part of the organizational structure of the Cardinals, and who had been a kicker and whose two brothers had been kickers as well, said, ‘We need an element that really rocks everyone and makes them identify with one another.’ And he had a very good idea. He said, ‘I need a Mexican flag.’ At that time, there was a person who ran Estadio Azteca, called Carmelita. I don’t know where she got the flag from. They went to get the flag and gave it to one of the Cardinals players. And when he went out onto the field, it resulted in an iconic photo because he runs out waving the flag. That was a very emotional moment.
ZENDEJAS: Michael Bidwill had asked me what we can do, what we can bring. You have to understand that the Cardinals weren’t favored in that game, they weren’t the fan favorite either. It was important to work with the community and all that, and I told them to put on the U-17 match at the stadium and to come out with the Mexican flag, because it’s about the respect you’re going to show. I said, “Don’t come out with an American flag or anything like that.” The 49ers’ owner was upset about that, but it’s a matter of respect.
RACKERS: It was amazing. We couldn’t even really have a pregame talk because people were stomping in the stands and in the locker room you have kind of the cutouts for the steps or the ceiling, so the whole locker room was just shaking and loud, so we couldn’t hear, we couldn’t really hear anything before the game. Other than the NFC Championship Game in Arizona, it was the loudest game I was ever a part of.
GONZALEZ: I had to walk from the press box to the pitch about 10 times, and when I was at pitch level, and would hear that scream, it was truly impressive. That’s when I realized that it had also made a strong impression on the coaches and players.
PENDERGAST: It was just really an electric crowd. There was over 100,000 people there. They cheered relentlessly throughout the whole game.
WILSON: It was awesome. There’s no other way to describe it. I’d been to Estadio Azteca for many games. I’d been there for Club America [soccer] games, I’ve been to U.S. vs. Mexico [men’s national team soccer] games, obviously NFL preseason games and to this game — so to me, it wasn’t any different as far as the experience.
Despite the pro-Cardinals enthusiasm ignited by Griffith’s flag-bearing, it was the 49ers who got off to the quick start, scoring touchdowns on a fumble recovery in the end 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 would not score again, as Rattay and the offense struggled to sustain drives and left Nolan with a difficult QB decision. Meanwhile, 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, though it was the kicker, Rackers, who would have a career game at Estadio Azteca, connecting on a career-high six field goals in the eventual 31-14 win.
BERRY: I remember the first two drives. I mean, I remember the offense having two turnovers and we’re looking up and we’re down 14-0 before we ever touched the field. On the defense, we’re like, “What the hell’s going on here? Like, this is the 49ers now. We’re not supposed to be down 14-0 to these guys.” … And we’re all kind of looking at each other on the defensive side, like, “All right, I guess we gotta go win this thing ourselves.” So we went out with a lot more focus and resolve and, and once the offense was able to do what they needed to do, and we did what we did, we had a pretty good time and I remember having a pretty good game myself.
NOLAN: It was a packed house. I did not know that when they whistle, that means they want things to pick up. Things are going slow, it’s like a soccer thing. If that’s the truth and I’m accurate in what I’m saying, I remember from time to time, everybody in the crowd would start whistling meaning, “Hey, this is slow.” But I didn’t know that at the time. I just heard the whistling thinking, “Well, I wonder what that means?” But I remember there was over 100,000 people I think at the game, which was huge and 100,000 people are whistling. It’s a little different.
RACKERS: In warm-ups we hit [field goals] from 75. And then Denny Green told me we were going to try a 72-yarder during the game, but then we got a third-and-13 conversion, so we didn’t end up doing that. It’s definitely a confidence boost when you’re sitting at distances like that and then opening drive, you get out for a 47-yarder, it seems pretty close at that point.
FITZGERALD: I remember getting punched in the mouth early in the game. I remember, I think they jumped out on us 14-0, and then Anquan [Boldin] and Josh [McCown] got us started and I made a couple plays and our defense helped close it out.
RACKERS: It just was a lot of fun. There was a lot of excitement. I was obviously able to get on the field a lot. It felt good to have fans that put a lot of stock in the field goal part of the game and the kicking part of the game.
BERRY: I felt bad because it was against my boy [49ers offensive tackle] Anthony Clement, who we were teammates the year before. You hate to have those kind of games against people that you genuinely like, and I genuinely liked AC, but we both had a job to do and I was going to do my job. It was the beginning of [No. 1 pick] Alex Smith’s time as the quarterback because Tim Rattay was a starter and they took him out and then Alex Smith got his time. And, so, I remember getting a sack on both those guys. So, it was a good time. Like once we got to the second half, we were able to kind of really establish ourselves on all three phases of the game. And it was fun for us. I can’t speak for San Fran, but I know we had a lot of fun.
With the game slipping away, Nolan made the fateful call to go to Smith, who would log the first of 3,250 career completions at Estadio Azteca before going on to make his first NFL start the following week. Smith was 6-of-10 passing for 34 yards in the game but would mostly struggle throughout his rookie year for a team that finished 4-12.
NOLAN: There was a whole thing of when do you play [Smith]? When don’t you play him? I can remember calling Peyton Manning after the draft. We had [selected] Alex. And I said, “Look, what’s your take on playing a guy early versus not?” Well obviously, he played early when he was a rookie and he strongly suggested “play him early, get the experience,” that’s what kind of helped me. … But if Alex, [who] was very young — he was 20 when we drafted him — was the same personality and strength as Peyton Manning, then that’s then that’s a good guy to listen to. But he wasn’t the same kind of guy. He was a guy that was very young. He wasn’t near the confident individual that Peyton was. And so, it was a mistake to play him too much too early because he needed to be brought along differently.
When we talked about playing Alex early we were slow to do it for good reason. I didn’t wanna ruin him and scare him, but the problem that happened was we were so bad, so few players, it was we had really no choice but to say, “Look, we gotta find a way to win some games. Let’s just go with the young guy and see what we can do.”
RACKERS: The nice part for me was normally people go to the concession stand during a field goal, but in Mexico a field goal is a big deal because they like the kicking part of the game. It was kind of nice — the cheers for field goals down there. And then after the game, the other experience I had was, usually a kicker does a press conference with at the most 15 to 20 reporters and they asked me to come into this room and there were about 500 reporters and I had to really compose myself before that, because I walked in and the look on my face was kind of like, whoa. So, that was kind of a cool experience as well.
CANTU: It was quite a game; we were losing, and we ended up with the win. It was a watershed moment for us, to start nurturing a fan base in Mexico.
The successful event in Mexico City would offer proof of concept for a league that would go on to formally announce the formation of the NFL International Series beginning in 2007 with a New York Giants win over the Miami Dolphins from Wembley Stadium in London. The league would not return to Mexico until 2016 but is set to play for the fourth time in seven seasons from Estadio Azteca with an encore of the Cardinals/49ers matchup. The league also expanded its International Series into Germany beginning this season.
WILSON: I’m immensely proud of it. It’s a defining moment for the NFL and the International Series. This year there are what, [five] games overseas? There’s [five] games, and the international round of games has taken on a level of importance that certainly didn’t exist when it first happened.
FITZGERALD: I remember Robert Griffith running out of that tunnel with that Mexican flag, and I’d never seen or played in front of that many people. Those are the things that stood out to me. It was an honor to be able to kind of have the first [regular-season] international game and be a part of some really cool history, especially as I see the game expand into Germany and to London and hopefully continues to do that.
CANTU: The flag [carried by Robert Griffith] was loaned to us by the Estadio Azteca and its staff. [Former Cardinal travel liaison] Anthony [Edwards] and Luis Zendejas went to give the flag to Griffith. The flag belonged to the stadium, and we had to return it. That flag, I didn’t know, but it was next to me. It was kept on the bench. After the victory, Griffith grabbed it again and he ran with it all over the field. Then, he gives it to me, and I take it to the locker room and when Dennis Green congratulates us, it’s all over and we leave. I left the flag, but the water boy saw it with me and thought it was mine. He put it in my bag. I had the idea that the flag was lost. But during the pandemic, I was browsing the boxes — there are 120 of them — of stuff I have kept throughout my career, which I keep in my garage. My wife found the flag and here it is.
WILSON: When the Colts played in London in 2015 or 2016, I went to that game as well and I had a real sense of personal pride, because of what this had become. The merchandising in London [outside the stadium] was probably 100 yards long, screens showing what was sold out, and what I think is great about it is NFL fans in general, it doesn’t have to be a specific team. What it does is raise the profile and give more to the fans overseas, it’s big. It was a big first step, an important step and one that has obviously grown and evolved now with the fact that teams can opt in for their rights overseas. That wasn’t the case when I was in Mexico, but now they can buy in and out of those and market in certain countries if they want to based on that bid process. It’s come a long way, and it’s great.
GONZALEZ: It was a watershed moment because in reality, no regular-season games had been played outside of the continental United States. So it was a kind of test, and I think the result was really satisfying in many ways.
CANTU: It’s amazing how life comes around. Now, I’m part of the [Cardinals] board and I come to Estadio Azteca with the same excitement. To be able to travel again, to live this experience, and to face the 49ers again — it’s amazing. It was announced, canceled due to the pandemic and then we got back to it. It has been a long journey, but I’m happy to be a part of it. I have been involved in draft parties and clinics for kids in Mexico City and all over the country; we’ve been to watch parties in Mexico, and our fans are excited to welcome the team in Mexico. Today it’s all different with social media. There is an instant connection with NFL fans because there’s more interaction.
GONZALEZ: I think it was a very good bet, thanks to Will’s vision. From my perspective, the idea began with Will Wilson.
ZENDEJAS: It’s beautiful that the team is doing Monday Night Football again. They’re going to play at Azteca, but the only negative for me is, why did it take so long [for the Cardinals] to return? What was the hesitation? We need to put an NFL team down there. There are fans already in place. It’s a two-hour flight from Dallas to play against the Cowboys, three to Miami, places like that. Instead of England or those cities, a team in Mexico City, Monterrey or Guadalajara would be better. It would be great for the kids, the thought that they could play professionally.
BERRY: Of course they had NFL Europe and all that kind of good stuff. So technically we weren’t the first, but as far as [regular-season] NFL games, it was exciting to be the first.
ESPN reporters Alfonso Mancilla, Eric Gomez, Josh Weinfuss and Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.