Raiders Are the Real Stars in Mexico
The “bad boys” from Oakland made a good first impression on Mexico’s football fans. Dallas then promised them a long-delayed look at Emmitt Smith.
Raider fans outnumbered Cowboy followers Sunday at Mexico City as the teams got a look--or at least a glimpse at the part of the field not covered by a tarp during a drizzling rain--at 112,000-seat Azteca Stadium, where they will play tonight in an exhibition game.
Cowboy coaches had earlier said they would keep Smith out of the game to avoid the risk of an injury to the running back.
But Smith said Sunday night that “fans were kind of excited about me playing, so the coaches finally pulled the trigger and allowed me to come out and play.”
He said he would be there “unless something drastic happens.”
It’s the sixth time since 1978 the NFL has brought a preseason game to Mexico City. Soccer is king here, but NFL games are popular on television and local football teams have a decent following.
“We’re very optimistic about the future of the sport here,” NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. “There are millions of fans in Mexico.”
The Cowboys and their cheerleaders have long been fan favorites here, aiming marketing toward Mexico and taking part in past preseason American Bowls.
But it was the Raiders--known locally as the “Malosos” or “Bad Boys"--who charmed the crowd, with silver and black the predominant colors among about 500 fans who turned out Sunday.
The security-conscious Cowboys shunned fans on their arrival Saturday evening at a hotel one newspaper described as a “bunker.” Raider stars, meanwhile, signed autographs and joked with children.
“Which bad boys?” asked a headline in the newspaper Reforma.
The newspaper Milenio called it “a first triumph” for the Raiders, and complained that “the Dallas Cowboys opted to hide and avoid any contact with Mexican people.”
The sports newspaper Ovaciones chided the Cowboys as “divas.”
Raider tight end Roland Williams joked with a girl who handed him a Cowboy helmet to sign: “No, no. I’m with the Raiders. I’m one of the good guys.”
With the NFL ready to start using replacement officials in next week’s exhibition finales, Tagliabue reiterated that their union must give some ground in talks that will be renewed tonight.
“Their position until now has been very unyielding,” said Tagliabue, who instead of staying in Mexico for tonight’s game will fly to Dallas to negotiate with Tom Condon, the agent who represents the officials.
“I think it’s very important for them to recognize that they have to make a significant change in their point of view and take seriously the offer I sent out last week to all of the officials.”
The NFL is offering officials a 40% increase immediately and a doubled salary by 2003. Last week, the league hired 106 replacement officials, who were guaranteed $4,000 each for two games whether or not they work.
Condon, who has a reputation for settling player contracts at the last minute, has said all along he believes the dispute will be decided at the last minute.
“I think we can get something done in Dallas,” he said.
The Green Bay Packers waived a dozen players, including Kevin Stemke, who played high school ball in Green Bay and won the Ray Guy Award as the nation’s top college punter at Wisconsin last year.
Stemke punted three times during the preseason for a 39.7-yard average. He improved as training camp progressed but never came close to unseating Josh Bidwell, who had a 71-yard punt Saturday night against Miami.
Also cut were quarterback Michael Bishop, acquired on waivers from New England last week, offensive lineman Richard Mercier, defensive linemen Giradie Mercer and Aaron Fields and cornerback Corey Chamblin, all second-year pros.
Six rookies and first-year players were cut: wide receiver Jason Franklin, offensive linemen Marques McFadden and Tom Schau, linebacker London Dunlap and defensive backs Damien Demps and Sam Young.
The Indianapolis Colts released three veterans--linebackers Dwight Hollier and Ratcliff Thomas and kicker Danny Kight--as they began paring their roster to 65 ... The New England Patriots waived six players: offensive tackle Stephen Neal, long snapper Ryan Benjamin, wide receivers Ronney Daniels and Shockmain Davis, defensive end Reggie Grimes and linebacker Yubrenal Isabelle ... The Miami Dolphins waived 11 players: defensive tackle Buck Gurley, center Jason Andersen, defensive ends Rameel Connor and Devon Finn, wide receivers David Foye and Daniel Guy, linebacker Aaron Gatten, fullback Matt Kalapinski, cornerback Zebbie Lethridge, tackle Michael Lies and safety Nick Sorensen.