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Monday Night Football: Texans face Raiders in Mexico City

Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders

For the first time since 2005, Mexico City is hosting an NFL regular-season game. The Houston Texans take on the Oakland Raiders in Azteca Stadium on Monday night – and the game comes with extra challenges.

The biggest problem is the thin air. The stadium is 7,380 feet above sea level. While both teams have experience playing at Mile High Stadium in Denver, this is 2,000 feet higher than that. At least they’re on an equal playing field (literally and figuratively).

“No one’s more used to the altitude than the other team, so we’re all going out there with the same struggle, if there will be a struggle,” Texans offensive lineman Duane Brown said.

To prepare, players have run extra laps and spent more time on the bike. Some have even worn elevation masks to train. Former U.S. national team soccer star Eric Wynalda said even with proper training, Azteca is the worst place to play a game. “You can’t breathe,” he said. “The pollution is so bad that if you don’t have some form of rain that’s brought all that down you are going to be sucking wind. They [will] break a record for how many oxygen masks they have on the sidelines. The combination of being that high up with pollution is just devastating to the body.”

Even healthy and fit athletes can experience headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, and light-headedness in a high altitude like this. Add to that the pollution in Mexico City, and tonight’s game is going to be a rough one.

“It’s going to be tough,” Donald Penn, an offensive lineman for the Raiders, told the Associated Press. ”I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Whenever that second wind hits, then you’re good. You hope that second wind hits early, then you’re really good. When my second wind hits, it’s usually early in the first quarter, second quarter maybe.”

Players have also been given security warnings about how their food is prepared, their drinking water, and leaving the hotel alone.

All that aside, the enthusiasm shouldn’t be lacking. Mexican fans are known for their fervor at soccer games, and tonight’s game (a different kind of football) shouldn’t be any different. The NFL estimates its fan base in Mexico at 22 million, and a lot of those are Raiders fans. This is the first of a three-year contract at Azteca, and if those go well, the contract might be extended.

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