“Si se puede” sounded in unison from the stands with two minutes to go in the Navy vs. Heroico Colegio Military (HCM) American football game. All the stops were pulled for this first meeting on an international field: skydivers, dancing marching bands, leather couches, and cannons that shot powder in the national colors.
For Navy’s sprint football team, it was the last game of the season. For HCM, it was a superbowl game in their backyard. Even though the final score was 47-0 with Navy winning, the Mexican fans kept cheering “si se puede” or “yes we can.”
Sparked by Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command, after he saw a football field on a visit to HCM, the football game was a vehicle to display the relationship between America and Mexico.
On Nov. 14, when the clock hit zero and the football game was over, that relationship was stronger than ever. Only smiles were on the Mexican cadets’ faces, and those smiles carried over to the fans who cheered for HCM and Navy. Both teams joined together in front of the cheering section and welcomed minutes of congratulations.
“I was shocked at how [HCM fans] cheered and supported for Navy,” said quarterback Midshipman 2nd Class Nick Deterding from Lindsborg, Kan. “In America usually the opposing team doesn’t cheer for us – especially when you win by 47 points.”
For most, a light tap on the shoulder was universal language for can I get your attention? For a few others, “una photo?” was a question to the Americans.
“I couldn’t explain how I felt; I just knew it was an extremely humbling experience. Being there was just a new experience that I’m still processing,” said defensive captain Midshipman 1st Class Collin Ascherl from Granville, Iowa. “I didn’t expect when we went there for the Mexicans to think of us the way they did.”
The Navy sprint football players were celebrities as they shook hands and took pictures. Young girls were giddy around the American football players. This game was not only the first American football competition, but also the first time many of the Mexicans had ever seen or interacted with Americans.
“This was the first time some saw an American, let alone in a football jersey,” said running back Midshipman 3rd Class Mac Lavis from Orinda, Calif. “They were excited to see us, which was just awesome. To me, our being there felt like a big deal, which was something I didn’t expect.”
A football game was the sprint football team’s mission, but they accomplished so much more.
“Watching how passionate the fans were after losing was an insight to how passionate they are as a people and country,” said Ascherl.
Each player embraced the opportunity to interact with the Mexicans and learn more about the people. In the end, when gaging if the Navy team could win a football game and help improve international relations, perhaps the Mexican fans cheered it best with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter: “si se puede.”