It was a play that I’d seen a thousand times.
With the game hanging in the balance, Canadian wide receiver, Alex Morrison drove his defender off the line then quickly hooked back to his quarterback to receive the pass. With the ball safely tucked away, he spun the corner off his back and powered forward for a crucial first down.
As a student at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, I’d been watching Morrison make that same catch for most of my adult life, living just steps away from Thunderbird Stadium on the campus of UBC. I’d even seen that same set of hands hoist the Canadian college championship trophy, the Vanier Cup when I was a wide-eyed freshman.
This time was different. There was still a bird on Morrison’s team helmet, but it represented the culture of a different set of indigenous peoples and deep royal blue had been replaced by a blood-red hue. Most importantly, the arm throwing the ball to him was not that of UBC’s 6’4 Penn State transfer Michael O’Connor, he was busy training for a second season with the Toronto Argonauts. Instead, the thrower was 5’9 lefty Ricardo Quintana and the country was Mexico.
The LFA experience is a lot like that, intensely familiar but wildly different. Close your eyes and you could picture yourself at any football field in the world. You can smell the sweat and grass, hear the chanting of the crowd and feel the crack of shoulder pads reverberate through your soul. Open them and you find sights you may never see anywhere else. An essential element of the home kicker’s warm-up is sending a staffer into the patio area, ensuring that a well-struck ball doesn’t hurtle into the roasting spit of local pastor tacos. A trip to the stadium “baños” is free but acquiring toilet paper requires a head nod to the lady who mans the table by the entrance. Fans cluster at the top of the stands under a canopy of personal umbrellas to avoid the Mexican heat. It makes for a delightfully unique atmosphere, where paid athletes make their way through the crowd to hit the halftime locker room and mingle with their fans both pre-and-post game.
The fans themselves are vibrant and passionate. For teams that don’t sell much official merchandise, those in attendance have somehow managed to get logos on every type of clothing. It’s very clear that the bleachers are not the domain of casual passers-by who happened to buy a ticket, but rather long-time followers of Mexican football. This isn’t the typically disengaged fanbase of many stadiums north of the border, with young people glued to their phones. Mexican fans come ready with an arsenal of chants and react genuinely to the action in front of them. There is also a delicious rivalry aspect as fanbases stare each other down from opposite sides of the field, hollering their displeasure at every questionable call or disrespectful hit. That level of activity creates a crowd that seems much larger than it really is, fired up by stadium-quality announcing.
When you stand on the sidelines, you gain an appreciation for the level of athlete in front of you. While they may still be considered semi-pro, these are some large and imposing individuals coming together at high speeds. You can hear the air leave the ball carriers lungs on contact and when the play comes directly into your lap, the last thing you are thinking is that this is a lower level of football. The players are quality entertainment, running, hitting and hurdling defenders just like any product you’ve seen on TV.
While the product is obviously not as crisp as what you might see in a fully professional contest, that inherent sloppiness makes for tremendous excitement. You can rely on seeing a blocked kick returned for major yardage, an impactful safety or a full-field weaving run with multiple broken tackles. It makes for a fun product and games that are never out of reach.
Canadians or Americans traveling to Mexico are looking for sun, sand and margaritas. However, for fans of the game, there is now an affordable and enjoyable way to get your football fix while working on your tan. The LFA is fast paced football built for excitement that is easily accessible if you know where to look. It is a unique cultural immersion that every football-savvy traveler should put on their to-do list.