NFL’s Raiders, Texans will have to tackle Mexico City’s elevation, smog

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There is nothing quite like Estadio Azteca in the National Football League.

Sure, Denver’s Mile High Stadium is 5,280 feet above sea level, but that’s more than 2,000 feet lower than the Mexico City arena.

And, yes, the Los Angeles Rams play at the Coliseum, which has been known to get swamped in smog.

But you would have to combine the two and turn the dials up to 11 to get a taste of what playing at Azteca will be like for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans in the first "Monday Night Football" game held outside the United States.

“[It] is the worst place ever to play a sporting event,” former U.S. men’s soccer team star Eric Wynalda told USA Today. “The combination of being that high up with pollution is so devastating for the body.”

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“For American football, I really am curious to see how these guys handle it,” Wynalda said. “It is going to have a massive effect on their bodies. These are some big bodies out there, 300-pound people who are trying to get oxygen into their muscles and to their brains. I think you will see a lot of delay-of-game penalties.”

He added, “They [will] break a record for how many oxygen masks they have on the sidelines.”

Local pulmonary doctor, Jorge Avendano Reyes told USA Today that the NFL players are in for a tough time.

“There can be headaches, dizziness, sensation of fatigue, accelerated heartbeat, hyperventilation,” he said. “We can also have respiratory symptoms, when we are exposed often to the pollution … The amount of oxygen that reaches the cells decreases, leading to the faster heartbeat and cardiac activity. The body tries to ventilate more quickly.”

Earlier this year, Mexico City began limiting the number of days a week car owners could drive in an effort to alleviate air pollution, but the results have been mixed.

“I was there last week, and the smog was worse than I’d ever seen before,” Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, told Fox News. “Residents in the city told me it is always like that at this time of the year.”

Estadio Azteca is an iconic venue in Mexico. It was the first stadium to ever host two soccer World Cup championship games (in 1970 and ’86), and the 1968 Olympics were notorious for a number of reasons, including the number of records broken in the thin air – like Bob Beamon’s 29’ 2¼” leap – as well as smog-related injuries, like Australian Ron Clarke who collapsed and lost consciousness at the finish line of the 10,000 meter race.

And El Tri, as the Mexican national soccer team is known, has enjoyed consistent success there, even against their toughest rivals. The American men have never left Azteca with a win against Mexico, going 0-9-2 there.

Unlike those matches, however, neither the Raiders nor the Texans has a home field advantage.

“We’re on an equal playing field,” Texans lineman Duane Brown told USA Today. “We’re all going out there with the same struggle, if there will be a struggle.”

As of noon local time, the air quality on Monday remained good, but there is no doubt in Wynalda’s mind that it will be difficult for the players.

“You don’t really feel it until you stop, and when your heart starts to beat and tries to slow down,” he said. “You just have these moments where you click out. You almost feel like you are going to pass out. The players stop for a second, you try to catch your breath, and then it is almost like you’ve just had a very long blink, and something bad happens.”

Fox News Latino’s efforts to reach out to the NFL, the NFL Players Association and the Oakland Raiders weren’t responded to by publication time.

Includes reporting by Andrew O’Reilly.