It wasn't too long ago that the New York Jets didn't ask much more of Mark Sánchez, their starting quarterback, than to be error free and hold on to the ball.
But after touchdown passes to Santonio Holmes to win a couple of games in heroic fashion, the Jets coaches and spectators alike appear unafraid to put the game in his hands -- and are gaining confidence that the second-year signal caller can lead their team to victory.
It’s good to see the face and the leader of team start develop and gain success, especially if you're a Jets fan.
For Latinos, it's an added bonus that this leader, who resides in the No. 1 media market in America, is also of Mexican descent.
Though there are a few Latino players in the National Football League, none has been as prominent at Sánchez, a young man who left the University of Southern California early with aspirations of reaching the Super Bowl.
He is currently the one of only two quarterbacks of Latino descent to be entrusted with leading his team. (Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, who has Mexican roots on his father's side, is the other.)
While at USC, Sánchez received praise and flack from critics for wearing a mouthpiece with the colors and symbols of the Mexican flag. In a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, he was asked why he wore the mouthpiece.
“It’s my heritage,” he told the newspaper.
While he hasn’t made the same kind of bold statement regarding his heritage in the NFL -- perhaps because of the league's stringent equipment and dress code rules -- Latinos across the country can still feel a sense of pride when they watch a proud Latino athlete play on the field every Sunday.
Not since Tom Flores (who quarterbacked for the Raiders & Chiefs in the 60’s) and Jim Plunkett (who won two Super Bowl championships as a quarterback with the Raiders in the 80’s) has there been a prominent Latino setting an example for the league's Hispanic fan base.
As a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan, I remember taking a special interest in certain players on the team who were Hispanic. During the Cowboys Super Bowl runs in the early 1990s, the player I admired was Tony Casillas, a defensive tackle.
Most of the time if you wanted to look up to a Latino player they were usually a defensive or offensive lineman, like Hall of Famer Anthony Muñoz of the Cincinnati Bengals.
In this past decade, the most prominent Hispanic in football has been All-Pro tight end Tony González of the Atlanta falcons, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs. Many consider him to be the greatest tight end of all time.
Even with those great players in the NFL’s history books, however, it always seemed to me that football was a sport that Latinos had yet to fully embrace and claim their part of the sport.
But with the modern NFL, things have changed -- and for the better. Young Latinos don’t have scrounge around for heroes like I did in the 1990s. Now when they turn on a game, they see names on the back of jerseys that read Sánchez, González, Camarillo, Garza and Cruz.
It’s easier to relate to a sport and have aspirations for it when there’s someone who looks like you on the playing field.
With the emergence of Sánchez and others, it’s nice to realize that the Latino culture is finally getting some prominent face time in professional football.
Victor García is an associate producer for Fox News Channel and a regular contributor to FoxNewLatino.com.