The NFL will return to Mexico City on Nov. 21 after 11 years for a regular-season game: the Houston Texans versus the Oakland Raiders. ESPN and ESPN Deportes both will televise the Monday Night Football game and both networks have big plans to cover the event, including having ESPN Deportes commentator John Sutcliffe serve as a reporter for ESPN’s English-language game telecast.
Sutcliffe, perhaps the only reporter in the NFL who travels to a game each week from Mexico City, finally has a home game. He talks to Front Row about this game and how excited he is to finally host the MNF crew in his hometown.
What memories do you have from the last NFL game in Mexico City in 2005?
Growing up in Mexico City, and watching NFL games with my dad, it was a very special day. A funny story – Mexico was playing the FIFA U17 World Cup Final. So, when the players from the Cardinals and the 49ers came to warm up, there were loud noises and cheering but it wasn’t about them; it was because Mexico was winning the World Cup.
What does it say about the popularity of the sport in Mexico that the NFL is returning?
The seats sold out in 48 hours. It’s the hottest ticket of any sporting event in Mexico this year. The league is back because the market is huge. Something else that is very important — I talked to Commissioner Roger Goodell and to Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys — who both told me that one of the reasons they’re also coming back is because they know that it is very important to the Hispanic market in the U.S. So, this is not just for Mexicans who live in Mexico. This is a game for all Latinos to celebrate and realize that the league has them in mind.
– John Sutcliffe on Mexico City fans’ NFL knowledge and the atmosphere he anticipates
What kind of atmosphere do you expect?
Oh, it’s going to be crazy. You’re going to see a lot of fans dress up. They’re going to know the players. They know that Brock Osweiler got $70 million and hasn’t lived up to his expectations. They know that Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is having an MVP season. It’s going to be great.
What will your role be on ESPN’s English-language MNF telecast?
It won’t be the regular sideline job. I’ll be there to explain to the U.S. audience what the NFL means to Mexico, what Azteca Stadium means. I’ll be trying to show how wonderful my hometown is.
Talk about the atmosphere at Estadio Azteca for fans who haven’t been there
It’s a huge stadium. I was there maybe for the largest of games in the history of the NFL – 113,000 fans! It was a preseason game between the Cowboys and the Oilers. You must take into account that [Diego] Maradona and Pele played there, the Pope was there, and Michael Jackson. The stadium was recently renovated. They did locker rooms, specifically for the NFL, and a press box. Azteca has stepped up to be considered something like Wembley in the sense that there’s a lot of history but it’s about bringing a game back every year. Thousands of Mexicans and Latinos want the NFL to come every year.
What plans do you have to host ESPN’s MNF crew?
I’ve been traveling with some of my colleagues for over 10 years every week. We’ve been talking about having a game in Mexico City for years. We’ll have a nice dinner with the crew. I will also take them to have some tacos al pastor. We might even play some golf at Chapultepec which is going to be the home of the World Golf Championship next March. Or, maybe they want to go to the pyramids. Mexico City has a lot of fun things to see. I’m also preparing a surprise; we might go visit some tequila bars.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a sample of John Sutcliffe reporting for ESPN Deportes as he interviews Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford after an MNF victory over the New Orleans Saints in December 2015.