The Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders face a unique challenge as they venture south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The teams meet Monday night at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Apparently the game will push them to their physical limits, according to a former athlete who has played at the iconic venue.
Azteca Stadium sits 7,280 feet above sea level — 2,000 feet higher than Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the NFL’s peak stadium in terms of altitude — and Mexico City’s air pollution problem makes playing there a hellish experience.
“Azteca Stadium is the worst place to ever play a sporting event,” former USA men’s soccer star Eric Wynalda told USA TODAY’s Martin Rodgers. “You can’t breathe. 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.”
Mexico-based sports medicine and respiration doctor Jorge Avendano Reyes told USA TODAY the Raiders and Texans can expect physical effects akin to the side effects of powerful pharmaceutical drugs.
“There can be headaches, dizziness, sensation of fatigue, accelerated heartbeat, hyperventilation,” Reyes said.
Wynalda might tune in to “Monday Night Football” to see whether the stop-start nature of NFL games proves to be more forgiving at Azteca Stadium than non-stop soccer.
“For American football I really am curious to see how these guys handle it,” Wynalda concluded. “It is going to have a massive effect on their body. These are some big bodies out there, 300 pounds people who are trying to get oxygen into their muscles and to their brains. I think you will see a lot of delay of game penalties.”
Neither the Raiders nor Texans can say they weren’t warned.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images