When he was growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, Rolando Cantu went to an NFL preseason American Bowl between Dallas and Kansas City.
Now the first Mexican native to make it to the NFL — Cantu spent 2004 on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad — has a chance to be a part of a real game in his country.
A week after the news broke that the Cardinals might be playing San Francisco Oct. 2 in Mexico City, the NFL made it official Monday. The NFL’s first regular season game outside of the United States will serve as one of the Cardinals’ eight home games.
The game, to be played at the gigantic Estadio Azteca, will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Arizona time as ESPN’s national Sunday night telecast.
"Being from Mexico, I can tell you, this is very exciting," Cantu said. "When the 1996 American Bowl came to Monterrey I was there . . . and I think the Mexico City people will really get into the game.
"It’ll be like a little Super Bowl."
Cardinals vice president Michael Bidwill, in Hawaii for the NFL’s owners meetings, said the organization was "honored" the league selected Arizona, calling it a "great opportunity" to play in a historical event.
Pete Abitante, the NFL’s senior director of international public affairs, said the NFL has wanted to play a regular season game outside the country for some time and credited the Cardinals for making it happen.
"There are many challenges to playing a game outside the United States," Abitante said. "It’s safe to say we wouldn’t have been able to do this without the Cardinals."
Estadio Azteca has a capacity of 114,600 fans, and in three of the previous five NFL preseason games held there, the crowd has cracked 104,000, including 112,376 to watch Dallas play Houston in 1994.
By comparison, the Cardinals sold 35,069 tickets for their game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium last Dec. 12.
Surrendering a home game has been a point of contention for critics of the idea, including some season-ticket holders. The Cardinals have also lost 20 of their last 21 games away from Sun Devil Stadium.
But the organization saw the chance for national television exposure and expansion to a new fan base and couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
"We took a look at the whole thing," Bidwill said. "It’s a game away from home but it’s not a typical road game.
"It will give us an excellent opportunity to reach the rest of the country . . . and to reach out to new fans. All of our fans are interested in us developing new Cardinals fans."
Cardinals coach Dennis Green, also in Hawaii, was unavailable for comment.
Bidwill said the organization plans to create fan travel packages for those who want to attend the game. He did not have a timetable when those would be available.
"It says something for the organization to give up a home game," Cantu said. "The Mexican people admire that. They will appreciate that."
Bidwill said season-ticket renewals, held up until the Mexico game was finalized, will be mailed out this week with a nine-game package — seven regular season games and two preseason home dates.
Plans for the week of the Mexico game have not been solidified, although the league is not expecting the teams to do anything else except fly in to play the game.
"Keep in mind it is the regular season," Abitante said. "Part of the reason we are doing it in Mexico is that we want as little disruption as possible."
But Bidwill said "some considerations" will be given to the team heading to Mexico City earlier than normal that week. He said Green and vice president of football operations Rod Graves will be looking into the logistics of such a plan.