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NFL’s Return to Mexico City Looks Greener Than Ever

  • NFL returns to Mexico City for 49ers-Cardinals "Monday Night Football" contest at Estadio Azteca.
  • After 2018 cancellation due to turf issues, this will be the second NFL game played on redone field.
Mexican and American national flags on field ahead of NFL game in Mexico
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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The NFL’s expansion efforts beyond U.S. turf was actually held back by it four years ago. 

Five days before one of the most anticipated games to that point in the 2018 season, the NFL was forced to cancel a trip to Mexico City where the Los Angeles Rams were set to face the Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.”

Rain and other events had left Estadio Azteca with “significant damage” that would have presented “unnecessary risks to player safety,” the league said in a statement that November as it was announced the game would be played at the L.A. Coliseum. 

Thanks to the turf firm World Sports and others, Monday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals — the first at Estadio Azteca since 2019 — won’t have those issues. After four games in Europe, the NFL’s first game in Mexico in three years marks the final contest of the 2022 NFL International Series. 

“It’s fitting that our final International Series game this season brings us back to the place where it all began…featuring a rematch of the first Mexico Game back in 2005,” said Marissa Solis, NFL’s senior VP of global brand and consumer marketing, in a statement. 

World Sports was brought in to consult in the aftermath of the 2018 cancellation. Company official Mike Newcomb told Front Office Sports that the prior field situation was a “fundamental mistake” in the planning and installation of the combination field, where grass was laid atop artificial turf minus proper drainage amid heavy use. 

The decision was made to tear up turf and go with grass. The NFL returned in November 2019 without significant issues for that Chiefs-Chargers game. 

“The field performed a whole heck of a lot better than previously, but it was still young,” Newcomb said. “Now, we have got many years and the root zone is very well established. We expect the field to perform a lot better.” 

Newcomb said World Sports has worked for years on a hybrid turf-grass system, a tricky proposition since the right grass variety is crucial because such fields can’t be aerated the same way as grass fields. 

“There is an opportunity there,”  Newcomb said. “There’s technology to grow natural grass within an indoor stadium. It’s entirely possible.”

Concussions have been in the spotlight for NFL players safety for more than a decade, but concerns over field conditions have been voiced by players and their representatives as well. 

Denver Broncos linebacker Aaron Patrick filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Chargers among others last week. Patrick suffered a torn ACL in October after he tripped on a mat on the sideline at SoFi Stadium. 

Earlier this month, NFL Players Association President JC Tretter — who has long crusaded against artificial turf fields — again raised the issue in an open letter. Tretter cited statistics that showed injuries occurred more often on slit-film artificial turf fields used by seven NFL teams: Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts, and New Orleans Saints. 

The first-generation artificial turf fields like AstroTurf were used by about half of NFL teams by the 1990s.

But those old surfaces were brutal, and even the NFL said it “shortened if not ruined many careers.”

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