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112,376 WATCH AS NFL DEBUTS IN MEXICO

SHARE 112,376 WATCH AS NFL DEBUTS IN MEXICO

They came out 112,376 strong last night to witness their version of the Super Bowl.

This was Mexico City's night to shine. This was the Mexican fans' way of showing that whenever the National Football League decides to expand they want to be included in the expansion plans.This was the Cowboys vs. the Houston Oilers Monday night at Aztec Stadium as part of the American Bowl series. It was the first NFL game played in this country, and the natives gobbled up all the tickets in two weeks, some paying as much as $60 for a ticket. The crowd was the largest ever to attend an NFL game.

Mexico native Norma Centeno was attending her first NFL game and was one of the lucky ones in this city of more than 20 million.

"It was very difficult to find tickets," Centeno said. "But I didn't want to miss this game, because I really like football."

Other fans were just as resilient in buying tickets. Mexico City has a large number of both Cowboys and Oilers fans, and they were entertaining themselves throughout the game by throwing paper airplanes from one deck to the other and onto the field.

The game was attended by approximately 600 members of the media. Fans showed up some six hours before kickoff and had their tailgate parties in the parking lot. There were Mexican rain dances - they worked, too - as the fans rushed into the stadium once the gates were opened.

"I don't know a lot about the Oilers, but I like the Dallas Cowboys," said Lilly Santisteban, a Mexico City native. "The Cowboys are the champs, and they are a great team.

"My father is a great football fan. When he heard about the Cowboys game, he just went crazy."

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue also was starry-eyed once he saw the overwhelming crowd. The enthusiasm here means he will bring the NFL back for another game in the near future.

"Whether or not there will be a franchise down here, I don't know," Tagliabue said. "But it's safe to say the American Bowl will be back here."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has already said he wants to bring the Cowboys back next year. The Cowboys already sell more than 10,000 copies of the team's weekly publication in Monterrey, Mexico, in Spanish, and Jones hopes to capitalize on this booming football market.

One Mexico City fan, Angie Reyes, even traveled to Texas last season to watch the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins. But there was only one problem - Reyes didn't have a ticket, and the game sold out before she could buy one.

Reyes wound up watching the game on TV at Six Flags in Arlington.

"I still had a great time," she said. "I like the Dallas Cowboys, but I won't be going back to Dallas for another game."

Fans in Mexico were so pumped up for the game that they cheered the beer commercials that played on the giant TV screen. In addition to Cowboys and Oilers paraphernalia, vendors were hawking San Francisco 49ers gear and caps and T-shirts of the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets.

Last night's elaborate halftime show also brought one ovation after another as a large contingent of Hispanics - dressed in native costume - filled the football field and performed alongside the Cowboys and Oilers cheerleaders.

Mexico City fans showed that they have a sense of humor while also laying out the welcome mat. One sign directed to the ABC-TV announcing crew of Al Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford read: "Mexico welcomes Al, Dan and Frank. Beware of our chili peppers." The A in Al, B in Beware and C in chili were highlighted in black letters.

"I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the stadium and the crowd," Cowboys safety James Washington said.