Though he’s never painted his face or dressed as Native American for a game, Nathan Mueller of Hastings still considers himself a rabid Kansas City Chiefs fanatic.
So when the 30-year-old Spanish teacher at Hastings Senior High School learned in February that his beloved Chiefs, who are 9-1, were chosen to square off against the also once-defeated Los Angeles Rams in the third annual NFL game to be played in Mexico City on Nov. 19, he could scarcely have been more excited.
A yearly traveler to Spanish-speaking countries, he saw the game as a rare chance to simultaneously enjoy his two passions in life: Latin American travel and Chiefs football. The combination seemed too good to miss, even thought it would keep him from taking his seat at the annual family Thanksgiving dinner feast.
“When two passions overlap, I just thought, ‘This is too unique of an opportunity to pass up,’ ” he said.
And so he made it happen, even though it felt strange cashing in two service days during the school year. He would share the trip with his students through the miracle of modern day computer technology. It would be a trip that touched many lives.
Tickets were pricey, but that wasn’t going to deter him. This was, after all, a one-in-a-lifetime event. He purchased four seats at a whopping 20,777 pesos, or roughly $520 U.S. dollars. Then he secured hotel reservations. All was set.
“This is something I have to take advantage of,” he thought. “I’m going!”
As he counted down to kickoff, everything seemed in order. He related details of the trip repeatedly to family and friends. Some said he was crazy to plan a 1,700-mile plus trip to see a football game, but he didn’t care. The experience would be one to cherish forever.
That’s when rumors begin to swirl. Terrible rumors. Apparently, field conditions at Azteca Stadium where the game was to be played were dismal. Concerts and torrential rainfall had reportedly left the playing surface unplayable. He scoffed at the notion.
Surely, the dilapidated field conditions could be rectified by a competent field maintenance crew, he reasoned. Canceling the game seemed implausible at this point. Mexico had too much at stake to allow that to happen. Millions of economic dollars were up for grabs. The show must go on.
“ ‘There’s no way that (rumor) can be true,’ ” he said to himself. “No way that can happen.”
Then the other foot fell. Hard.
The NFL announced Tuesday it was moving the much-anticipated game to Los Angeles. And with that, Mueller’s dream vacation was abruptly drop-kicked through the goal posts of life. He couldn’t believe it.
“I started thinking, ‘Could they somehow change their minds?’ ” he said. “I was scrambling, (but) I knew I was going to Mexico. I wasn’t going to mess with it.”
An official announcement made by Mark Waller, NFL’s vice president of international affairs, confirmed the change of venue. Mueller was inconsolable.
“I e-mailed him back to blow off steam,” he said. “He responded, (but) it was not really a consolation.”
At least Ticketmaster in Mexico has assured him he will be reimbursed for his game tickets, less a 10 percent service fee. Even so, the refund falls far short of providing any true reparation for the trip-altering venue change. Less the game, the rest of the package seems anticlimactic at best.
“Normally I would be thrilled going to Mexico,” he said. “It’s just kind of a weird feeling to get excited for a trip then have this happen. I didn’t see it coming.”
Despite the debacle, Mueller remains a faithful Chiefs fan. He still intends to watch the game on television in Mexico’s capital city, preferably alongside fellow fans whose dream vacations were also dashed by the NFL’s last-minute switch. Misery loves company.
“It would be nice to find some people who can share my frustration,” he said. “That would kind of be a small consolation for all this headache. I’m not going to let this ruin my little six-day Thanksgiving vacation.”