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'Futbol americano' history

A few of the things you should know about the progression of American football in Mexico.

November 07, 2008|Kevin Baxter

Some key moments in the history of football in Mexico:

* The largest crowd in NFL history is 112,376 -- and it came to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City for a 1994 exhibition between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers.

* Although there's disagreement whether the teams were primarily composed of U.S. Navy sailors on shore leave or Mexican college students returning home from their U.S. schools for the holidays, it's generally agreed that the first game of futbol americano in Mexico took place in Veracruz around 1896. Mining company teams then helped popularize the game, and within a generation the National Student Organization of American Football (ONEFA) was established. The first professional championship game was played in Mexico in 1928, just eight years after the NFL staged its first title game.

* Former Rams receiver Tom Fears, born in Guadalajara to a U.S. mining company executive and his Mexican wife, is the only Mexican native enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was also the first Mexican to star in the NFL and the league's first Latino head coach. Stanford's Jim Plunkett, a Heisman Trophy winner, was the first Mexican American taken with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

* Before Monterrey Tech began dominating college football in Mexico, winning eight of the last 10 national championships, the country's football powers were two Mexico City schools. The National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, won 22 titles between 1933 and 1967, and the National Polytechnic Institute, or IPN, won five titles between 1973 and 1992. Both were original members of ONEFA, the Mexican version of the Bowl Championship Series. In recent years, those programs, which would draw as many as 40,000 fans to their games in the 1950s, have fallen on hard times. This fall, inspired by Monterrey Tech's success, Mexico's main conference, the Big 12, split into three leagues, each of which will conduct their own postseason championship.

* The NFL claims more than 20 million fans in Mexico, by far the league's largest following outside the U.S. The NFL Network is widely seen in Mexico, and games are seen on Fox and ESPN. Fan clubs are common, and popular, in the country's major urban centers. In Mexico City, Monterrey, Tijuana and other cities, theater chains show "Monday Night Football" on their movie screens. Although evidence of the NFL's growth in Mexico is largely anecdotal, the sport's popularity is generally traced to migrants who in the 1970s began returning to Mexico from the U.S. with a passion for football. About the same time, Mexican TV started to broadcast NFL games -- primarily those of the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers.

-- Kevin Baxter

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