Mexico City — As much as possible, the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans want to treat their trip to Mexico City as business as usual.
But there’s no hiding the fact that this game will be unlike any other road trip.
Players have been given security warnings. The teams are taking precautions about how their food is prepared.
And both teams are figuring out how to deal with the thin air 7,380 feet above sea level when the Texans (6-3) take on the Raiders (7-2) tonight at Azteca Stadium.
Players have run extra laps, spent more time on the bike, and a few have even used elevation masks as part of their training.
“It’s going to be tough,” Raiders offensive lineman Donald Penn said. “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.”
Both teams have some experience with playing at altitude, with the Texans traveling to Mile High in Denver last month and the Raiders making annual trips there. Mexico City, however, is more than 2,000 feet higher than Denver.
The altitude is only one factor that will make the second regular-season game ever in Mexico different from a typical one in the NFL.
The Mexican fans are known for their enthusiasm at soccer games and the players expect nothing less with perhaps more cheers than usual for kicks and punts from a crowd used to a different kind of football.
“I like to watch soccer, so I’m wondering is it going to be like a soccer atmosphere where they have the horns playing and stuff like that,” Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye said.
Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president of international, said the league gave the teams advice on when to arrive to limit the effects of the elevation; made sure there were English speaking drivers for the players; and worked with the chefs at the team hotels to ensure the players could get their usual meals.
“Our goal in any game is to not have any reason why the teams would be disrupted from performing at their best in any market in any game,” Waller said.
Azteca Stadium has undergone renovations since the NFL last played a regular-season game there in 2005. Capacity was reduced from more than 100,000 to 84,000, with premium seating added, improved communication capability and new locker rooms that can handle the larger roster for football teams.
“In the same way that we built in London an annual game, I would like to think we can do the same thing there and become part of the sporting calendar,” Waller said. “We want to become known as one of the great sporting events in the city in any given year.”
Monday Night Football
Raiders vs. Texans
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 p.m., Azteca Stadium, Mexico City
Records: Raiders 7-2, Texans 6-3