The NFL’s never been one to let hazardous field conditions interfere with its unstoppable corporate machine. How would you explain Dan Snyder’s Maryland mud pit or the carpet literally coming up in Houston? So you know things must be bad at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca if the league decided a Week 11 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams couldn’t be played there because the field’s in such terrible shape.
Last week, the field conditions were considered a “significant concern,” according to Adam Schefter. And just a few hours later, the NFL pulled the plug on its game in Mexico.
Chiefs-Rams game to move from Mexico City to Los Angeles due to field conditions pic.twitter.com/vWmpzS9lOr— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) November 13, 2018
“We have worked extensively with our partners at Estadio Azteca for months in preparation for this game,” NFL executive vice president of international Mark Waller said in the statement. “Until very recently, we had no major concerns. But, the combination of a difficult rainy season and a heavy multi-event calendar of events at the stadium, have resulted in significant damage to the field presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game.”
The NFL will return to Mexico City in 2019, though a date, time, and matchup won’t be announced until the spring.
Where will the Chiefs vs. Rams game happen instead of Mexico City?
The game will be a traditional home game instead for the Rams back in Los Angeles at the Coliseum. Well, maybe not that traditional. It remains to be seen if the fans in Los Angeles will be able to fill up the stadium on a weeknight with less than a week’s notice.
There’s another reason Los Angeles was the backup option for the game — rules!
Re CHIEFS-RAMS Mexico City game, it's worth noting that NFL rules say the home team in the international series (in this case, the Rams) has to have its home stadium available in the event the game has to be moved, for whatever reason.— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) November 13, 2018
The late swap is still a little unexpected, as the NFL was determined to play in Mexico all the way up until its decision.
“We are working closely with the field manager at Azteca Stadium and others to ensure that we have an NFL-quality surface for our game, and we are looking forward to kicking off in Mexico City on Monday night,” league spokesperson Brian McCarthy told ESPN earlier.
What about the players?
They were NOT happy about it. And why should they have been? Those kind of field conditions are an injury waiting to happen.
There were even rumblings that the players might not play.
If Monday night’s game is played in Mexico City, a number of Rams and Chiefs players are now strongly considering not playing in that game on that messy surface, per sources. “It’s not fair to risk our health,” one prominent player said today.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 13, 2018
Players were reportedly concerned that the league will resod the field to no effect. The concern, according to Charles Robinson at Yahoo, was the sod won’t have time to settle, leaving the surface loose and still dangerous. A few players wanted a union inspection of the field to assure it’s safe to play on.
What exactly was wrong with the field at Estadio Azteca?
Oh, buddy. It’s bad. Real bad. Bad enough to made FedEx Field look like a bucolic pasture somewhere in the wilds of Scotland.
Check this out.
La NFL y el sindicato de jugadores (NFLPA) se reunirán hoy en el Estadio Azteca para determinar si el #ChiefsKingdom vs. #LARams se juega en México o se mueve a Los Ángeles. El estado de la cancha preocupa a los altos mandos de la NFL. pic.twitter.com/5m1xuSJ9kk— Comex Masters (@ComexMasters) November 13, 2018
Let’s get a shot from the air just for effect.
Here’s a more recent shot of the field. They’re laying sod on the field on Tuesday, but that wasn’t enough to keep the game on schedule:
There was some concern about the field at Estadio Azteca for the Rams-Chiefs game next Monday in Mexico City. This is what it looked liked today as they began work on it. pic.twitter.com/mRMI2PaohL— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) November 13, 2018
A concert at the field on Nov. 7 did significant damage to the playing surface.
This isn’t the first time the field’s been a problem this year. A Shakira concert in October tore up the field too. Reports in the wake of that show said the damage may be irreversible.
The problem stems mostly from ripping out the natural grass field and replacing it with a hybrid turf earlier this year. That process wasn’t finished until three days before the stadium went into use, heavy use, and that, combined with bad weather, has left the playing surface in tatters.
Why do field conditions matter?
Simple — shitty field conditions mean more player injuries.
The league and the players union had one of their rare come together moments over the issue in 2016. After a rash of injuries directly and indirectly attributed to the physical locations where teams play, the two sides set up a joint committee on the issue during the offseason that year. Less than a month later, they canceled the preseason Hall of Fame game when the field there literally MELTED after a concert the night before.
The NFL made the right call pulling the plug on Mexico City. Looking at the state of the field, it was hard to see how the league could justify doing anything else.