By CARLOS RODRIGUEZ
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican fans welcomed the NFL in raucous fashion, and it probably won’t be the last time Azteca Stadium hosts American futbol.
Next time, however, they’ll try to ban laser pointers.
Nearly 80,000 fans came to see the Raiders defeat the Houston Texans in a 27-20 win Monday night in what felt like a Raiders home game.
The crowd harassed the Texans and supported the Raiders , one of the most popular NFL teams in Mexico.
The success of the game and the full weekend of events could entice the league to bring more games to the Mexican capital.
The NFL says 76,473 fans were at the game, and the atmosphere was very different from the more neutral crowd for games in London. Thousands of other football fans attended a weekend-long fan fest.
Although many wore silver and black, it was clear that the Cowboys, Texans, Steelers and Broncos also have fans south of the border.
“Besides the game, we had an excellent trip here, great experience for our players. Unbelievable crowd. Just a really cool atmosphere for both teams,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “It was a great trip as far as that’s concerned.”
Before the game, there was concern that Mexican fans could boo the U.S. national anthem because of the political tension since Donald Trump was elected president, but the crowd did not .
A SOCCER CROWD
The fans’ behavior was similar to the atmosphere when the Mexican national team or local club America play their soccer matches in Azteca Stadium.
“I was able to play at Wembley Stadium in my rookie year, and then being able to play here, I mean it was amazing,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “There’s so much history and so much rowdiness. I love soccer, so it gave me kind of a soccer feel.”
Throughout the game, the crowd chanted a gay slur that is common in soccer matches when the opposing goalkeeper clears the ball.
This year, FIFA has fined Mexico three times for the chant. The NFL did not comment about the slur.
Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler was targeted by a green laser on several plays, something that is common against visiting soccer teams playing at Azteca.
“Certainly, having a laser zoomed in on your eyeball definitely affects how you play,” Osweiler said.
THE MEXICO RAIDERS?
The Raiders are exploring a move to Las Vegas, but in the meantime, they could consider another trip back to Mexico, where they clearly have a devoted fan base.
According to the NFL office in Mexico, the Raiders are the fifth-most popular team in the country. They were clearly more popular Monday night than the Texans.
Yon de Luisa, sporting vice president of the Televisa media company which owns Azteca Stadium, has said the deal with the NFL could include two future games in the venue.
THE AZTECA RENOVATIONS
Azteca Stadium, famous for hosting two World Cup finals, was renovated with a $12 million investment for its 50th anniversary and to celebrate club America’s 100th year. As part of the deal to bring the NFL back, Televisa had to comply with several upgrade requests by the league.
Azteca built new football-only locker rooms, installed new seats and boxes that reduced its capacity from over 100,000, and added a new wireless internet network. The stadium still needs major renovations in other areas: the parking lot is insufficient, there are no escalators and the stadium lights and most of the ramps are 50 years old.
Before the game, Mexico City’s altitude of 7,380 feet above sea level played was a cause for concern for both teams, who arrived a day earlier to avoid the effects as recommended by the NFL Mexico office.
Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree had trouble breathing, and the Raiders called a timeout for their players to catch a break late in the game.
“I mean you talk about the elements is always a factor, but at the same time you talk about resiliency and the coaches having us prepared,” Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack said. “… It was a weight that we could fight through and you’ve seen that throughout the finishing of the game and especially in the fourth quarter.”