Few teams have as much wide-spread appeal as the New England Patriots. Naturally, a lot people want to see the most successful NFL franchise of the 21st century play, as evidenced by the around 70,000 people on the season tickets waiting list – and those people are not only limited to the northeastern United States. Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders will further be proof of that.
Playing in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, New England will not face your typical road crowd as the defending world champions are among the most popular NFL teams south of the boarder. It has not always been like this, though. Going back two decades, New England was pretty much an NFL afterthought both domestically and abroad – and the team's first trip to Mexico City exemplifies this.
In August 1998, during the third week of the preseason, the Patriots played their first game at Estadio Azteca. The contest took place in front of what at time was the second-largest NFL crowd ever: 106,424 people saw the team under second-year head coach Pete Carroll take on and ultimately defeat the Dallas Cowboys 21-3 – despite playing in a hostile environment.
For the Patriots, their first game in Mexico City was a road game in the truest sense. The vast majority of the people in the stands was not rooting for Drew Bledsoe and company but for the team that had won three of the last six Super Bowls. Since then, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls of their own, so it would not be a surprise to see the crowd be pro-New England on Sunday.
Playing in front of what could be as close to a home crowd as you will ever get to see on the road certainly projects to be an advantage for the Patriots.