Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Zona Rosa

It's New Year's Day and, strangely, there's a lot more interest in the Rose Bowl than we would normally expect there to be for an American college football game.

But then we remembered that USC's starting quarterback is Mark Sanchez, the pride of Mexican-America. Of course, in America, Mexican pride is something best kept secret.

Last fall at Notre Dame, in only his second college start, Sanchez took the field biting down on a protective mouthpiece with a dime-size Mexican flag painted on the front -- a gift from team dentist Ramon Roges, a Cuban.

Sanchez passed for 235 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-0 victory, and what was perceived as a gesture on his behalf was well received by many Mexican Americans. But there was also backlash over the tiny flag that smacked him like a blitzing linebacker.

Sanchez's patriotism -- even his sanity -- was questioned, with some letter-writers urging him to go back to Mexico (never mind that he never actually lived there).

"It was eye-opening. It was educational," Sanchez says. "I never in a million years would have thought that kind of reaction would happen. It just blew my mind that people were upset about it."

...In the NFL, he would join a fraternity of Mexican American quarterbacks, including Dallas' Tony Romo, Buffalo's J.P. Losman and Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia. They, in turn, are part of a storied tradition dating back to Super Bowl quarterbacks Joe Kapp of the Minnesota Vikings and Jim Plunkett of the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, each of whom are of Mexican heritage.

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