What started as a simple conversation between two football executives has taken CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie to Estadio Azul, a 33,000-seat stadium in Mexico City.
Ambrosie and a host of general managers, coaches, and executives were in Mexico City on Sunday for the CFL’s first combine outside of Canada to watch Mexico’s 50 best football players showcase their talent. The trip started when Ambrosie was introduced to Liga de Futbol Americano chief executive Oscar Perez and the two realized they could help each other grow the sport of football by giving players from their respective countries new opportunities to play the game.
"Oscar and I talked about that and almost immediately agreed that that would be great for the CFL, great for Canada, great for Canadian kids, great for Mexico, the LFA, and Mexican kids," said Ambrosie in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
"We both just said in a moment ‘Well, let’s do it.’ I took that idea to the governors and I’ve had nothing but fantastic support from our governors and our team presidents. It just seemed like a logical place to kick off our global ambitions."
The idea is that the combine — which Ambrosie hopes will become an annual event — and a draft held Monday will be mutually beneficial to the CFL and the LFA.
Ambrosie hopes it will help CFL teams discover Mexican talent and recruit them to come to Canada and raise the level of competition in the league. At the same time, the relationship between the two leagues will give Canadian players fresh out of school another place to play if they don’t make a CFL team when they graduate.
"For so many, if they finish their junior career or college career and they’re not on a CFL roster then there’s kind of nowhere to go and their dream ends," said Ambrosie. "I think that’s a tragedy. This is really about growing the game of football."
Octavio Gonzalez, a defensive end with the Monterrey Fundidores, was one of the 51 players from the four-year-old LFA and Mexican collegiate programs auditioning to be selected in the draft.
Gonzalez boosted his stock by posting a combine-best 33 bench press reps.
"The CFL opening the door to us is a dream come true," said Gonzalez.
"It’s a big league. It would be just so awesome to play in one of those big stadiums with all those people. We would bring our best, our passion and give it our all."
Ambrosie’s ambitions extend far beyond Mexico. He’s hoping the CFL can hold another combine this spring somewhere in Europe, but those plans are still coming together.
"In the next number of weeks we’re going to meet the leaders of the German football federation. We’re planning to visit with the football federations from France, Austria, and the four Nordic football federations in early February with the same concept," said Ambrosie.
"What I keep talking with them about is that I’d love a chance to show their best players an opportunity to come to our great league and to give the Canadians a chance to see the best athletes from around the world that play football and I’m passionate about giving Canadian kids the chance to continue playing the game they love."