‘Worlds collide’ for OL Will Hernandez in Cardinals’ Mexico City game
TEMPE — When the Arizona Cardinals land in Mexico City over the weekend, it’ll be an experience most on the team have not experienced as a football player or otherwise.
Quarterback Kyler Murray said Wednesday only about two or three players raised their hand when asked about playing the international matchup prior to this season.
But if you ask Cardinals offensive lineman Will Hernandez, there’s nothing new about it.
With his family hailing from Mexico — a lot of his dad’s side is from the country — Hernandez has spent his fair share down south. He and fellow lineman Max Garcia make up the team’s two Latino players on the roster.
And while Hernandez is currently on injured reserve due to a pectoral injury, the starting right guard isn’t letting the ailment derail the moment.
“For me, it’s a very, very cool deal,” Hernandez said Wednesday. “Growing up, I grew up in a Mexican household, my parents are from Mexico, and the NFL was a whole other world very far away from it. Now that I’m playing in the league and being able to go back to my country, two worlds collide.
“It’s something special, it’s something I didn’t think would ever happen to me. It’s a very cool deal and I’m excited for it.”
Dubbed a Cardinals home game, this one has the makings of anything but against a well-traveled San Francisco 49ers contingent.
Reports on Wednesday showed a lopsided fan presence when it came down to ticket buying, with some expecting more than 80% of the stands to be littered with red and gold.
Normally, that would put the Cardinals on no-huddle watch in the states. But with Estadio Azteca fans, the cheering hardly ceases, regardless of what is taking place on the football field.
“The atmosphere out there is on a different level,” Hernandez said. “People get loud out there, they’re passionate. Definitely going to be a lot of crowd noise. I know these guys are preparing for it, I know the coaches are going to have us ready for it.
“I think they just remodeled it a little bit and dropped down the total people allowed in the stadium by 10%, because it gets that crazy,” the lineman added.
The change in game-day atmosphere isn’t the only switch up the Cardinals must prepare for, either.
While State Farm Stadium sits just over 1,100 feet above sea level, Estadio Azteca is 7,200 feet above sea level. For comparison, Mile High Stadium in Denver is 5,280 feet above sea level.
In an effort to replicate being at higher elevation, the 49ers took it upon themselves to practice in Colorado Springs, which sits at 6,035 feet, in preparation for MNF.
And despite the Cardinals having a similar elevation to Estadio Azteca in their backyard up in Flagstaff (7,000 feet), head coach Kliff Kingsbury and Co. are remaining in the desert this week. That’s not to say they aren’t prepping for the change, though.
“We looked at all options,” Kingsbury said Monday. “(Strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris) does a tremendous job with all those things. He did all sorts of research on it and we felt like the program we could set up here for all the altitude training was really good and wouldn’t disrupt our routine.
“They’ve been at it for the last two or three weeks. All of our guys have been on it trying to prep for that, but I know it’ll be a challenge either way whether you do that or not. We’ve just got to line up and try to play our best football.”
Hernandez’s go-to phrases for navigating Mexico City:
Quiero mas: “Just means keep them coming when you’re at the restaurant. You’re going to order something and you’re probably going to want another one, so just, ‘Quiero mas’ and they’ll bring another one out for you.”
Primer down: “First down.”
The NSFW phrases: “You’re going to hear a lot of stuff coming out of those stands, so just giving you a heads up.”
Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum on the NFL putting more emphasis on growing the game internationally:
“I love it. The National Football League is really starting to expand. You had NFL Europe a couple years ago that didn’t pan out in the way in which we wanted it to. This new expansion and the way we’re going about it is really good for the National Football League, is really good for football as a whole. Not only the National Football League but flag football, getting all types of people from all different social-economic backgrounds involved, genders involved as well. I think this is doing a good job at making this an international and global game.”