The NFL played four preseason games in five years at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City from 1997-2001. The league played its first regular season game outside the United States in 2005, also in Mexico.
Children born around that time have grown up. Now in high school and college, a generation has had the chance to see NFL action before their eyes.
On Dec. 22, the first high school bowl will take place outside U.S. borders. The Pro Football Hall of Fame World Bowl Presented by Xenith will feature about 70 players from the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Netherlands and France at Azul Stadium in Mexico City.
“The NFL has done a great job with their big game … It really gets those fans excited,” said Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy general manager Rich McGuinness, who helped form the bowl. “I think in the end they just really have a tradition going back to 15, 20 years ago when the NFL started going down there.”
American football is growing internationally, he said. The Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, invites players from around the world to train each summer. Last spring, trainers from the HOF worked with a “few hundred” European athletes across the Atlantic, and just last week, McGuinness and Hall of Fame member Rod Woodson went to work with 500 kids in Mexico.
McGuinness sees the sport growing in Mexico quicker than elsewhere, something he attributes to proximity to the U.S., the NFL games played there and a growing economy.
“The country’s developing (into) a more modern country and American football is becoming a real option for Mexican kids,” McGuinness said.
In seeing progress around the world, McGuinness deemed it prudent to create a bowl they can participate in alongside athletes from the U.S.
If anyone were to set it up, it would be him. McGuinness was also instrumental in helping to form the All-American Bowl.
The creation of the Hall of Fame World Bowl was a similar process, he said, even though he now has to compete with large-scale All-Star games including the AAB and Under Armour Bowl.
With some of the top prospects in the country committing to play in the Hall of Fame World Bowl, it shows there’s still a draw for more high school action.
“I think the idea that this was a fresh, new bowl experience in a new country was probably one of the big, exciting elements to it,” McGuinness said. “I think the other one is Xenith, our presenting sponsor, will be unveiling their new ‘shadow helmet.’”
The “shadow helmet,” a Xenith design funded by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, supposedly has an adaptive fit and feels lighter than some other helmets.
Additionally, the game hosted a signing day event Dec. 19 where athletes announced their college choice.
Doing so in a different country made it all the more special.
“We’ve kind of connected a lot of the dots from our top players to fans around the world to maybe a new idea that could add one more layer to the international football world,” McGuinness said.
The Hall of Fame World Bowl will be aired on CBS Sports Network on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. ET.