Mexico City – A home is not a home.
The Arizona Cardinals were supposed to adopt Estadio Azteca as their home stadium for Monday’s game against their divisional foe, the San Francisco 49ers. However, ownership of the historic stadium changed hands when the Niners took over the 87,523-capacity stadium to help propel San Francisco to a 38-10 victory.
From pre-game to post-game, 49ers and their fans controlled the tone and mood of the game. Fans in scarlet and gold jerseys, Lucha masks, and Aztec stadium flags filled thunderous cheers for what was supposed to be the away team, and gave deafening boos to the home team.
“I know 49ers fans travel well,” said Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy, who started in place of Killer Murray for the second time. “It was very noisy. We went on the silent count most of the night.”
The conclusion of the 2022 NFL International was a Super Bowl-esque event. The audience of 78,427 included stars such as professional wrestler Pénta El Zero Miedo and middleweight boxing champion Canelo Álvarez, who took part in the coin toss.
Players of Mexican descent on both teams, including 49ers offensive lineman Alfredo Gutierrez (Mexican), 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (Mexican American) and Cardinals Will Hernandez (Mexican American), emerged from the tunnels with Mexican flags, igniting their love for their country . and heritage.
Mexican singer-songwriter Sofia Reyes gave a good rendition of the Mexican national anthem, “Himno Nacional Mexicano,” leading to loud chants of “Mexico” being chanted throughout the stadium.
“That anthem was really cool,” said 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “I’ve never played in an atmosphere like this. It was electric. The fans were crazy. They were cheering the whole game, which (felt) like a football match.”
Before kickoff, ESPN’s John Sutcliffe delivered a rousing speech in Spanish that electrified the audience, similar to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s monologue before the 2022 Super Bowl.
Then came a halftime performance by Latin Grammy award-winning Grupo Firme. The crowd treated the group as if they were the Cardinals, loudly booing them throughout their performance.
That was the theme of the night.
Mexican fans usually broadcast their passion for a team, player or artist that they either adore or despise. When they feel something, they don’t hide their feelings.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said, “Man, I love San Francisco but if we can’t be there, I’d love to be here.” “This place is amazing. That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve been a part of.”
The enthusiastic fans provided a college football atmosphere and NFL post-season feel.
The crowd went berserk on all 45 plays, when the Cardinals faced third and fourth, when San Francisco kicked in excellent field position, and when the 49ers kicked kickoffs. Fans performed “The Wave” and sang hit songs, including Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” several times throughout the game.
Fans gave defensive end Nick Bosa a standing ovation after he sacked McCoy to end the first half. Then, the Niners faithful showered wide receiver Deebo Samuel with “Deebo” chants after his 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“Man, it was unbelievable,” said Warner, the 49ers linebacker. “One of the best experiences I’ve been in, seriously. This whole game, it just felt like a playoff atmosphere.”
San Francisco embraced Mexican culture when 49ers wide receiver and Arizona State graduate Brandon Ayuk made salsa work after he scored his first touchdown. George Kittle gave America a taste when he kicked the ball into the end zone after scoring twice.
Mexico has over 48 million NFL fans, and it seemed as though most of them packed into the multi-purpose stadium, turning it into a festival. They longed for live NFL football, and Monday’s game cemented their love of American sports.
This was the first NFL game in Mexico City since 2019. It was the fifth NFL game to be held in Mexico and was a replay of the league’s first regular season game held outside the United States in 2005.
Besides wishing his team played better, Cardinals coach Cliff Kingsbury also had to deal with off-the-field issues over the weekend in the City of Mansions. ESPN reports that the Cardinals sent Sean Kugler, the team’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator, home the Monday before the game, then fired him on Tuesday after he allegedly groped a woman in Mexico City Sunday night. Kugler is the second Cardinals assistant coach to be accused of assaulting a woman this year.
The Cardinals return to their true home stadium on Sunday, hoping to put it all behind them when they host the Los Angeles Chargers.
“We’ve got to get rid of him,” said Kingsbury. “We had a short week with the Chargers coming in…we know we have to play a lot better.”
By then, the harsh ringing in the Cardinal’s ears should be gone.