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NFL strikes pay dirt in Mexico

August 5, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The NFL loves Mexico. More important, Mexicans go wild for ``futbol Americano.″

Where else can the league play an exhibition game and expect to draw more than 100,000 raucous fans, some paying up to $50?

Mexico City did it again, filling 104,209 seats at Estadio Guillermo Canedo (formerly Azteca Stadium) for the Miami Dolphins’ 38-19 victory over the Denver Broncos. It was the third-largest crowd in NFL history.

Three years ago, the largest crowd in league history _ 112,376 _ crammed the gigantic soccer stadium to see the Houston Oilers beat the beloved Dallas Cowboys 6-0. And they didn’t even get to see Emmitt Smith, held out because torrential rain turned the field to muck.

Monday night was poncho weather for those not protected by the stadium’s partial roof. But no one cared.

They cheered everything from the Dolphins cheerleaders taking the field for a pregame routine to the balloons that dropped from large suspended helmets following the national anthems.

And they chanted, sang, booed and shook the concrete bowl with the wave long after John Elway left with a partially torn bicep tendon in his throwing arm and Dan Marino wrapped up his short night by throwing a touchdown pass. Flashbulbs popped even during point-after kicks.

And fans got to cheer _ and then boo _ the city’s own Marco Martos, the first born, bred and schooled Mexican national non-kicker to play in an NFL game.

It helped that the Dolphins are second in Mexican fans’ hearts only to the Cowboys.

``It’s a type of show that doesn’t come too frequently,″ said Dolphins fan Juan Pablo Troop, 27, who watched the game from one the suites. Like the majority of fans, he was wearing Dolphins apparel.

Earlier Monday, the NFL guaranteed itself another massive crowd when commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that the Cowboys _ known in Mexico as ``Vaqueros″ _ will return to Mexico City for an exhibition in 1998, with the opponent to be determined.

That will be Dallas’ third Mexican exhibition in five seasons. Last year they lost to Kansas City before a sellout crowd of 45,218 at Monterrey. And it will be just the fifth exhibition game ever south of the border.

``In the last three years, we’ve been extremely pleased with the interest in the NFL in Mexico,″ Tagliabue said.

``No one’s able to predict that a Mexican player like Marco Martos would emerge as quickly as he did. That’s a tribute to Marco Martos and football in Mexico at the university level, and other levels as well,″ he added.

Martos, a World League star, was in the ninth day of a 10-day contract. He returned kickoffs in the second half and caught one pass, for 15 yards. Flashbulbs blazed when he caught the opening kickoff of the second half and returned it 26 yards. He ran back three kickoffs for 78 yards.

``We tried to get him the ball and I thought he represented himself well,″ coach Mike Shanahan said. ``You could see he was a very gutty player.″

Shanahan hopes Martos can land on someone’s developmental squad, and he’s likely going to spend another year in the World League.

The Broncos were booed all night, and Martos couldn’t escape the harshest hoots and whistles of the night following a touchback on the kickoff after Miami’s final touchdown.

Nonetheless, Martos drew more media attention than Elway and Marino combined.

``I realized my dream,″ Martos wrote in a column in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma on Tuesday. ``Maybe it was 10, 15 or 20 seconds, I don’t know. But I succeeded in getting up there where I have always dreamed of being and I’m very happy because of that.″

One drawback was the field, which didn’t hold up well. Although the NFL said it covered the grass for 10 days, wide receivers and running backs repeatedly slipped. Marino dropped back to pass in the first quarter and fell, ending up almost side-by-side with Broncos defensive end Neil Smith, who also lost his footing closing in for a sack.

During timeouts, workers ran out to pick up divots and helped players scrape dirt and grass off their shoes.