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Column: As Chargers and Chiefs learned, NFL fans in Mexico City aren’t just curious onlookers

Alvaro Ledo Nass, Madrid, España
Column: As Chargers and Chiefs learned, NFL fans in Mexico City aren’t just curious onlookers

This metropolis feels awfully similar to Los Angeles, or at least parts of Los Angeles.

Alvaro Ledo

Traffic is brutal. There’s a Starbucks on every other block. KFC, Burger King, PF Chang’s, Hooters, they’re all here. The magazine stands on the sidewalks sell coloring books of Dora the Explorer and Paw Patrol. Many of the television programs are dubbed versions of U.S. shows.

Alvaro Ledo Nass

There is one major difference: Some people here wear Chargers jerseys

Not just at the stadium and not just on game day

Advertisement Around town. On the streets. In the taquerias

Philip Rivers jerseys, Joey Bosa jerseys, even some Junior Seau jerseys

Then again, NFL jerseys are everywhere, even some really obscure ones

Chargers Hernandez: At 4-7 and sinking in AFC West, did Chargers lose more than postseason hopes? Chargers Hernandez: At 4-7 and sinking in AFC West, did Chargers lose more than postseason hopes? Now, the Chargers’ season is over. And their next one might already be too. More Coverage Philip Rivers’ four interceptions doom Chargers in loss to Chiefs Photos: Chargers vs. Chiefs in Mexico City The night before the Chargers dropped a 24-17 decision to the Kansas City Chiefs at Aztec Stadium, while Times beat writer Jeff Miller responsibly caught up on sleep, a man near the under-repair Angel of Independence monument wore a No. 17 Patriots jersey

Advertisement I was with a couple of other reporters and we started wondering: Whose jersey was that?

A receiver?

Daniel Popper, who covers the Chargers for the Athletic, guessed the jersey was Antonio Brown’s

Brown wore No. 17 in the one game he played with the Patriots, but that wasn’t it

The answer turned out to be Aaron Dobson, a former second-round pick who played 24 games with the Patriots from 2013 to 2015. Who would have guessed?

1 / 22 Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers walks off the field during the second half of a game against the Chiefs on Nov. 18.  (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 2 / 22 Chargers receiver Mike Williams catches a 50-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers late in the fourth quarter of a game against the Chiefs in Mexico City.  (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press) 3 / 22 Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is sacked by Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) and defensive tackle Joey Ivie (93) during a game Nov. 18 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press) 4 / 22 Chargers receiver Keenan Allen can’t make a catch against Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward during a game Nov. 18 in Mexico City.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 5 / 22 The Chargers take the field before a game against the Chargers at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  (Rebecca Blackwell / Asssociated Press) 6 / 22 The flags of Mexico and the United States cover the field before an NFL game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 18 in Mexico City.   (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 7 / 22 Players for the Chargers and Chiefs warm up before an NFL game Nov. 18 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 8 / 22 Fans look on before an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 18 in Mexico City.  (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 9 / 22 Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers throws a pass during the first half of a game against the Chiefs on Nov. 18.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 10 / 22 Chargers running back Austin Ekeler gets away from Chiefs defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon during the first half of a game Nov. 18.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 11 / 22 Chargers running back Austin Ekeler reacts during the first half of a game against the Chiefs on Nov. 18.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 12 / 22 Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes looks to pass during the first half of a game against the Chargers on Nov. 18 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 13 / 22 Chargers strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins, center, celebrates an interception with his teammates during the first half of a game against the Chargers in Mexico City.  (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 14 / 22 Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy scores a touchdown during the first half of a game against the Chargers in Mexico City.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 15 / 22 Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy celebrates after scoring touchdown against the Chargers in Mexico City.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 16 / 22 Chargers running back Melvin Gordon leaps over Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu during the first half of a game Nov. 18 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) 17 / 22 Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce hauls in a pass against his helmet during a game against the Chargers on Nov. 18 in Mexico City.   (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press) 18 / 22 Chargers strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins (23) intercepts a pass intended for Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) during a game Nov. 18.  (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 19 / 22 Chargers strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins celebrates after intercepting a pass from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during a game Nov. 18.   (Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press) 20 / 22 Chiefs running back Darrel Williams (31) celebrates with offensive guard Andrew Wylie after scoring a touchdown against the Chargers on Nov. 18.  (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press) 21 / 22 Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Chargers on Nov. 18.   (Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press) 22 / 22 Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes motions before a play during a game against the Chargers on Nov. 18.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) American football won’t overtake soccer as the country’s most popular pastime, but the sport is definitely a part of culture here

The NFL claims to have more than 20 million fans in Mexico, with about a third of them considered avid. The league’s games are televised

But many of Mexico City’s fans learned to care for the game by playing it as much as they did by watching it. The sport is widely played at the youth level, with high schools and universities fielding competitive teams

Advertisement The “Clasico” of American football here is a matchup between the teams fielded by two of the oldest universities in the Mexico City, the Burros Blancos of the National Polytechnic Institute and the Pumas of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)

The rivalry dates back to 1936 and their 1970 games at Aztec Stadium attracted 120,000 spectators. Their latest game, in October, drew more than 40,000 fans

Chargers Red-zone woes and turnovers: Chargers’ loss to Chiefs looks familiar Chargers Red-zone woes and turnovers: Chargers’ loss to Chiefs looks familiar The Los Angeles Chargers’ final possession against the Kansas City Chiefs resulted in a Philip Rivers interception and a red-zone failure. That couldn’t have been more appropriate. UNAM is also affiliated with a professional soccer team called the Pumas that plays in University Olympic Stadium. The facility was an American football stadium before it was a soccer stadium

The Chargers and Chiefs played in front of an announced crowd of 76,252 fans. These weren’t curious onlookers

Rivers learned that when he arrived at the Chargers’ hotel in Mexico City the previous night. He heard fans call him by a translated version of his name: Felipe Rios

“It was actually pretty touching, to be honest with you,” Rivers said. “Across borders, down here, not having a clue what to expect, I was appreciative of that and thankful.”

The fans were engaged. There were chants of, “De-fense!” There were some quirks, of course. They performed the wave. When their team was trying to stop the opponents on third down, they made noise by whistling

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) leads his teammates onto the field before their game against the Chargers on Nov. 18 at Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press) AdvertisementThe fans were amazing,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “They were cheering the whole game. It was loud. It was a great atmosphere.”

Earlier this month, the Athletic reported that the Chargers would at least listen if the NFL approached them about moving to London. Ignore for a moment that Chargers owner Dean Spanos denied that was the case, or the logistical problems of placing a team outside of the United States. If the league wants to expand beyond its borders, it should look at Mexico before Europe. The shorter flights would be one reason. Culture would be another. The NFL is already here in spirit