Mexican fans show they want to be in NFL's future plans


MEXICO CITY -- They came out 112,376 strong last night to witness their version of the Super Bowl.

This was Mexico City's night to shine. This was the Mexican fans' way of showing that whenever the National Football League decides to expand they want to be included in the expansion plans.

This was the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Houston Oilers last night at Aztec Stadium as part of the American Bowl series. The exhibition, which was won by the Oilers, 6-0, on the strength of two Al Del Greco field goals, was the first NFL game played in this country. The natives gobbled up all the tickets in two weeks, some paying as much as $60 for a ticket. The crowd was the largest ever to attend an NFL game.

Mexico native Norma Centeno was attending her first NFL game and was one of the lucky ones in this city of more than 20 million.

"It was very difficult to find tickets," Centeno said. "But I didn't want to miss this game, because I really like football."

Other fans were just as resilient in buying tickets. Mexico City has a large number of both Cowboys and Oilers fans, and they entertained themselves throughout the game by throwing paper airplanes from one deck to the other and onto the field.

The game was attended by approximately 600 members of the media. Fans showed up some six hours before kickoff and had their tailgate parties in the parking lot. There were Mexican rain dances -- they worked, too -- as the fans rushed into the stadium once the gates were opened.

"I don't know a lot about the Oilers, but I like the Dallas Cowboys," said Lilly Santisteban, a Mexico City native. "The Cowboys are the champs, and they are a great team.

"My father is a great football fan. When he heard about the Cowboys game, he just went crazy."

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue also was starry-eyed once he saw the overwhelming crowd. The enthusiasm here means he will bring the NFL back for another game in the near future.

"Whether or not there will be a franchise down here, I don't know," Tagliabue said. "But it's safe to say the American Bowl will be back here."

The only negative effect of the fans' successful rain dance was a moat-like field that led to little traction or, in the case of Cowboys' star Emmitt Smith, no action at all.

"I'm a little disappointed," Smith said, "because I was looking forward to finally getting to play some. But we felt the footing was going to be good enough."

The first-team defensive line's poor work against the run was among the defensive lowlights that provided the Oilers with their two Del Greco field goals in the first half. Poor tackling in the second half by backups allowed Houston to keep the ball away from the Cowboys.

Said safety James Washington: "The field took a lot away from what our defense does best, run to the ball."

"The main thing you want to accomplish in a game like this," said Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, "is to not get anyone hurt."

To help assure that, Aikman left after one drive in the second quarter and was replaced by Rodney Peete, who drove the Cowboys to a missed 21-yard field-goal attempt by Richie Cunningham in the final seconds of the half.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones already has said he wants to bring the Cowboys back next year. The Cowboys already sell more than 10,000 copies of the team's weekly publication in Monterrey, Mexico, in Spanish, and Jones hopes to capitalize on this booming football market.

"So far they've been well received in the American Bowl games," Jones said, "at least in the games we've been a part of in Tokyo, London and now here in Mexico City."

One Mexico City fan, Angie Reyes, even traveled to Texas last season to watch the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. But there was only one problem -- Reyes didn't have a ticket, and the game sold out before she could buy one.

Reyes wound up watching the game on TV at Six Flags in Arlington. "I still had a great time," she said. "I like the Dallas Cowboys, but I won't be going back to Dallas for another game."

Fans in Mexico were so pumped up for the game that they cheered the beer commercials that played on the giant TV screen.

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