It was Nov. 25, 2010, Thanksgiving night. The Mark Sanchez-led Jets were preparing to face the Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium. And there was the First Lady of Mexico, Margarita Zavala de Calderón, on the field as a guest of Los Jets, waiting to perform the coin toss.
Up stepped Clemson Smith Muñiz, who for 20 years has been the play-by-play man for Jets radio broadcasts in Spanish. The interview, in Spanish, revealed that Zavala was there to see Sanchez play at the invitation of team owner Woody Johnson. Sanchez, along with teammate D'Brickashaw Ferguson, were guests of President Obama at a state dinner in honor of the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, a few months earlier. As he made his way through the receiving line to greet Zavala, she took a Jets Sanchez jersey out of her purse and asked for his autograph.
"I asked her why she was a fan of Sanchez, who is Mexican-American, and American football," Smith Muñiz said. "She said she had been a cheerleader because her brothers played the game back in Mexico."
In a way, those encounters qualified Zavala as Jets fan Numero Uno in Mexico. And she is not alone among Latin fans in Central and South America, not to mention the millions of Hispanics who now call the New York area home. Millions who are rabid sports fans -- be it fútbol Americano, baseball, basketball and, of course, soccer.
On Sunday, when the Jets open the 2020 NFL season at Buffalo, Smith Muñiz (a native of Puerto Rico) and his partner Roberto Abramowitz (who was born in New York but grew up in Mexico City) will be calling the Los Jets game in Spanish on ¡QUÉ BUENA! 92.7 FM. The Jets first broadcast games en Español in 2000, making this season the 20th anniversary. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the English-language (98.7 FM WEPN (ESPN Radio; with Bob Wischusen and Marty Lyons) and Spanish-language radio calls will originate from the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center for road games, and from MetLife Stadium for home games.
"Latinos are sports fans," Smith Muñiz said. "Certainly living in a new country it's part of your assimilation. But football is not that foreign to Mexico. While many Hispanic Jets fans do speak English, we are giving them an alternative. There's a different rhythm, a different style, more passion. We are giving Hispanic fans an option and quality broadcasts."
Up until this season, the NFL had played games since 2016 in Mexico City's cavernous Azteca Stadium. But this year plans to stage three international games (two in London, one in Mexico City) were scuttled because of the pandemic.
That is not to suggest that the interest level among Hispanic fans is waning. On the contrary, the New York area, with more than 2 million residents with Hispanic heritage, is a hotbed of interest.
"It's important for a team like the Jets, and every team in the city, to go out and reach out to this fanbase," said Abramowitz, who over the years has called a multitude of games in Spanish for ESPN, Fox, NFL Network and others. "The Jets are the leaders. They've been doing it longer than anybody. The excitement is what makes us all NFL fans and Hispanic fans are no different. There's a huge audience out there within New York and outside the city, and it behooves the Jets to go after a piece of this market. Hispanics are usually force fed soccer. This is an alternative, something different."