The players got off the bus after arriving in Mexico, and they were NFL stars. Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner. Yet Michael Bidwill almost remembered the Mexican press, but ignored them when they passed. Then Cantú followed.
“They’re just swarming over him,” Bidwill said.
Cantú was a star in his home country, even though his NFL resume did not include any regular season roster time. Coming from the original NFL international player program, the 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman will make history later in the season when he makes the Cardinals’ final game of the season. He was the first to play in the NFL which had gone through the Mexican college football system.
But that was at the end of the season. Here, in October, Cantú was only traveling as an ambassador. He had hoped the team would put him on the active roster for the game and admitted his disappointment when they didn’t.
“The first emotion is that I should have been there, you know, obviously active,” Cantú said. “But once there it was a smell of grass, of the environment, of people who were just hungry to be a part of that first regular season game outside of the United States.”
Cantú had dreamed of playing in the famous stadium when he was younger. While that wasn’t going to happen, it didn’t make him a less important part of the trip – and of the story.
The Cardinals, who only arrived on Friday, stayed mostly at the hotel and in the immediate area. Cantú was at the forefront of the pre-game festivities, a beloved emissary between the NFL and his homeland.
He attended a children’s camp, made countless radio and television appearances, and joined the Bidwills for an official dinner with local dignitaries.
“It was just consecutive non-stop promotions,” Cantú said. “And it was fun.”
The weekend contest was extended to the owners, good child. The Cardinals presented a crystal soccer ball to their Mexican hosts, but the 49ers offered a Joe Montana jersey – presented by Joe Montana. So, at another public event, the then director of the community of cardinals, Luis Zendejas, from Mexico City, suggested a new plan.
At the end of the fan event, Michael Bidwill noted that while the Cardinals were there to hopefully gain new fans, the Cardinals had in fact become a fan of a new team themselves – and he pulled out a jersey for the Mexico U-17 soccer team, which played in Brazil the next day for the Youth World Cup title.
“The place has gone crazy,” Bidwill said.
The following night, the Mexico soccer team won their game, with the Cardinals-49ers crowd going mad as the Estadio Azteca presented the highlights of the game on the video board.