ESPN gets a do-over with Mex­ico City game

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Barry Wilner

Mon­day night's game be­tween the Raiders and Tex­ans in Mex­ico City will al­low ESPN to im­prove upon its performance when it tele­vised the last con­test from that city in 2005.

ESPN is get­ting a doover.

Eleven years af­ter the net­work tele­cast an NFL game from Mex­ico City , it will do so again when the Raiders “host” the Tex­ans on Mon­day night.

Jay Roth­man, ESPN’s vice pres­i­dent of pro­duc­tion and the “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” pro­ducer, wants this broad­cast to be a lot dif­fer­ent.

“We were there in 2005 and I wish we could do ‘05 over again, and we will not make the same omis­sions,” Roth­man says. “We went in and did the game and got out.

“Mex­ico City is such an awesome city and we will make it a week­end-long spec­ta­cle.”

ESPN has lucked out that the game has plenty of sig­nif­i­cance, with the Raiders tied for the AFC West lead and best record in the con­fer­ence head­ing in, and the Tex­ans lead­ing the AFC South. But this is about more than foot­ball.

It is about the first in­ter­na­tional se­ries match there since the Car­di­nals beat the 49ers at Azteca Sta­dium in 2005. It’s about the sta­dium it­self, one of the most fa­mous sports venues in the world.

It’s about the fans, who might not fol­low foot­ball as closely as they do “fut­bol,” but who gen­er­ally em­brace the Amer­i­can game. And it is about Mex­ico. “The X’s and O’s we do ev­ery week,” Roth­man says. “I think we are silly not to take ad­van­tage and sprin­kle in the his­tory of Azteca Sta­dium. Cul­tur­ally, look at the fans of Mex­ico, who share the pas­sion they have for the NFL.

“The food, the fla­vor, and points of in­ter­est. We will do that all within the body of a three-hour show.”

Ac­tu­ally, ESPN isn’t so lim­ited.

It will also stage its pregame shows and other stu­dio pro­gram­ming from Mex­ico City this week­end. Join­ing the broad­cast team of Sean McDonough, Jon Gru­den and Lisa Sal­ters will be ESPN De­portes’ John Sut­cliffe, who lives in the city. “John is a rock star in Mex­ico now, he is our break­through guy,” Roth­man says. “He will have kind of like a Jim McKay host-type role, though that is chal­leng­ing within a foot­ball game.

“He will be in­te­grated to share the great mo­ments of Azteca, ed­u­cate peo­ple on the fan­dom of Mex­i­can fans and as a great peo­ple. He is our point per­son to share those per­spec­tives and sto­ries.” Gru­den has be­come some­thing of a rock star in the NFL broad­cast­ing world, and while his main job is to dis­sect play on the field, it will be in­trigu­ing to hear his take on not only the game, but the en­tire scene Mon­day night.

He coached the Raiders in a pre­sea­son game against the Cow­boys in Mex­ico City in 2001.

“The sta­dium is what I re­mem­ber the most,” he says. “The tra­di­tion, the mon­stros­ity of it, the ex­cite­ment of play­ing in a place you have only seen and heard about.

“I am anx­ious to get back there and rekin­dle the feel­ing.”

Azteca has un­der­gone mas­sive ren­o­va­tions, not only to at­tract the NFL’s re­turn, but as home of Club Amer­ica and of the Mex­i­can national soc­cer team, and to keep it on the radar for ma­jor events in the world’s most pop­u­lar sport.

Yet it has kept much of its unique­ness, Roth­man notes.

“There’s still the moat and the barbed wire, which was there in ‘05,” he says. “They built th­ese beau­ti­ful locker rooms, but they are out­side the sta­dium (bowl).

“Play­ers will walk to and from the field through the stands to the sta­dium’s out­side, which is where the locker rooms are. It is 7,200 feet (in al­ti­tude), and you think es­pe­cially of the heavy play­ers wear­ing pads mak­ing that walk.

“Can’t imag­ine do­ing it with helmets and pads on. They will be suck­ing air big­time. “It will al­low for unique shots and van­tage points, not only from the air but the nooks and cran­nies of the sta­dium and its fea­tures, the march to the field and back up, the pageantry.”

Roth­man prom­ises his net­work won’t avoid cov­er­ing any non-foot­ball news that be­comes rel­e­vant with the NFL in town. Con­cern has been voiced in some cir­cles about po­ten­tial protests in Mex­ico City over the out­come of the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

“We wear our news hats, too, and we will get to­gether and dis­cuss that,” Roth­man says. “If there are things out­side and in­side the sta­dium to cover, we would be crit­i­cized for ig­nor­ing them and we need to do the right thing.

“I don’t think we’d in­ten­tion­ally shoot spe­cific signs (of protest), but if we see what we have seen out­side the Trump Tower, we will be ob­li­gated to cover it.”

Gru­den says he has no con­cerns about safety or se­cu­rity.

“I am ex­cited to go,” he says. “I’ve got my pass­port and ready to roll. Last time I was there I got to see some re­ally cool places and met some peo­ple — I have no con­cerns what­so­ever.”

In the end, what usu­ally is most mem­o­rable about NFL games on in­ter­na­tional stages is how en­ter­tain­ing the game is. In that way, the re­ac­tions are no dif­fer­ent from games held in Mi­ami or the Mead­ow­lands, Seat­tle or San Diego.

“I got a feel­ing there will be a lot of Raiders fans,” Gru­den says. “There were the last time I was there ... and there will be a lot of Tex­ans fans there. It will be loud, like a Raiders home game, I wouldn’t be sur­prised.”

AP FILE

Azteca Sta­dium in Mex­ico City, Mex­ico is shown prior to the start of a reg­u­lar sea­son NFL game be­tween the Ari­zona Car­di­nals and San Fran­cisco 49ers in 2005. Eleven years af­ter the net­work tele­cast an NFL game from Mex­ico City, it will do so again when the Raiders “host” the Tex­ans on Mon­day night.

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