As a Latino, you probably grew up thinking that the two only sports in the world were soccer and baseball. Then, when you discovered football you felt hooked. You understood that maybe there is a world of more sports out there. And maybe this “American” sport was the best game you’ve ever watched.
Then your abuelo told you that this is a “gringo sport” and not to even bother trying to play it. Well abuelo, turns out you are not aware that Latinos have been a part of the NFL since the 1920’s and that lately, they are becoming more and more important in the league.
Here are some stories of Latinos who have forever changed the history of the NFL. Stories that will make everyone in your family think twice when they say you will never make it in the football world.
Read this and go back to the family dinner and educate everyone on how Latinos have made their mark in the most American sport of all time and how we are still making it great.
Photo by Peter Rimar / Wikimedia Commons
Considered as the best offensive lineman in NFL history (yes, THE B-E-S-T), Anthony Muñoz is a Mexican-American who played 13 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Anthony and his three siblings were raised by their mom after their dad left when they were very young. His mom worked at a farm packing eggs. Anthony and his brother would sometimes help her on the weekends but she always encouraged them to use their free time to play sports.
He was big and strong and baseball was his passion but USC offered him a scholarship to play on their football team and he accepted it.
He suffered from several knee injuries during this time and refused to take a year off after reconstructive surgery. This was the year when he played the Rose Bowl and was spotted by the Bengals manager who would then pick him at the NFL Draft.
Muñoz was famous for being one of the most dedicated players on the team. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 and he is listed at #12 on the NFL’s Best 100. This makes him the only Latino in the top 15 of this list.
Nowadays, Muñoz has a foundation that helps the youth of the Greater Cincinnati region. The Anthony Muñoz Foundation focuses on helping kids reach higher education and teaching them how to overcome the obstacles they face in life.
The Zendejas kickers
When Joaquin and his brother Genaro Zendejas came from the little town of Curimeo, Michoacán to California, they probably knew very little about American football. They also probably never even imagined that their family would become a legend in the sport.
Joaquin Sr. moved to California in the early 70’s and he worked in construction. His wife Raquel and him brought with them their seven kids. Three of them, Joaquin, Luis and Max, became professional NFL kickers. Joaquin Sr. himself played semi-pro soccer in Mexico so there must be some sort of magic leg power running in the family.
Joaquin Jr. started playing football until he started University and by the time he was 23 he was playing for the New England Patriots. His brother Luis played for the Cowboys, the Eagles and the Arizona Rattlers (AFL) and Max played for the Redskins and the Green Bay Packers.
Genaro’s eldest son, Tony, was also a star kicker for the Houston Oilers, the LA Rams, the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers.
Tony was also born in Curimeo and moved to California in the mid 60’s with his dad Genaro and his mom Nefa. Tony was the first one in the family to get involved in football. He used to be part of his high school soccer team and they used to practice next to the football field. One day he decided to go over and try to kick the ball and he noticed that he might be very good at it.
This was back in the 80’s when Latino representation in football was not that common. And here we had a family with extraordinary leg power who came and changed the rules and for a couple of seasons, 4 Zendejas playing in some of the best teams of the NFL.
Tony said in an interview back in the 80’s that it was the family that made them so good. They never practiced by themselves. They always had each other, they played together and thanks to this they defied the odds and became an NFL power family in the 80’s.
FACT: In 1927, Ignacio "Lou" Molinet became the first hispanic player in the #NFL.
— Sons & Brothers (@sonsandbros) August 29, 2014
We are going to tell you a story most football fans don’t know. Going back, way back. Ignacio Saturnino Molinet, A.K.A. Lou Molinet was born in Chaparra, Cuba in 1904. Both of his parents were Spanish and they all moved to New Jersey when Lou and his brother Joaquin were very young. This little boy grew up to become the first Latino to play in the NFL in 1927.
After his parents died, Lou went back to the island until a Philadelphia team offered him a contract to play professional football.
Molinet was never a super star on the team or the league. They say he only scored a one yard touchdown and he only played for one season. After that, he went back to university, finished his degree and dedicated his life to being a caring father and working as an engineer for an air-conditioning manufacturer. Even his kids didn’t know much about his days as an NFL player.
But the real achievement was that he opened the door for other Latinos to join the sport and to dream big, beyond just high school or college teams.
Can't wait for the real Sunday Fundays to begin. pic.twitter.com/wTH2hlayFk
— Andrew Sendejo (@Asendejo) July 17, 2015
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo is of Mexican descent and he has a very, VERY, good chance of winning a Super Bowl LII championship this year.
Sendejo is by all means an unlikely success story. This 30 year old player from San Antonio was not picked in the 2010 NFL draft. So, just like most Latinos, he worked his way up to the pros. Instead of quitting, he decided to keep playing in the minor leagues. Then he got a chance at a spot in the NFL practice squad and he was offered a chance to be a rotation player. After much practice, he was allowed to be a starter.
He is the embodiment of Latino hard work. He didn’t get lucky, instead he worked his way up. He proved to everyone that he deserved a spot on the team and up to today, he proves at every game why.
You may not have many tíos or primos who are Minnesota fans these days. But if for some reason your team doesn’t make it to Super Bowl LII this year and the Vikings do, remember there is one of us there and we have to support him.
In the meantime, go follow him on Twitter. You’ll learn more about him and all the ways he volunteers to help those in need.
If you are a Raider fan you know who Tom Flores is. If you are not a Raider fan, go ask that tío who hangs a black flag from his car, he knows…
Flores was the son of Mexican field workers who moved to the States looking for a better life for the family. In an interview Flores shared that his grandpa worked in the mines in Durango where bandits would come and steal everything from them.
When they moved to California, he remembers his family worked day and night. His dad never went to school because he had to work since he was a kid to help the family.
Flores is a legend in the NFL. He was the first quarterback for the Raiders which also made him the first Latino quarterback in the AFL. He is one of the only two people in the history of the NFL to win a Super Bowl as a player (Kansas City Chiefs), an assistant coach and head coach (Raiders).
He is the first Latino to ever hold a manager position in the NFL in Seattle and up to today, he is a legend for the Latino community and all the Raiders fans out there.
Now grab a tissue because we saved the most emotional story for last. Jim Plunkett. Rated as one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history and as one of the best Raider players of all times, Jim Plunkett knew a thing or two about overcoming obstacles.
Jim was one of the kids of Carmen and William. Both were Mexican-American with an Irish-German great grandpa on his father’s side. His dad was legally blind but he could get by wearing very thick glasses but his mom lost all her vision when she was around 20. They met at the school for the blind where she was learning Braille and they fell in love.
When he was young, he used to help his dad with his newsstand to earn some pocket money. His parents could not drive so they would walk everywhere or take the bus for longer trips.
Jim was the star of the Stanford University team and became the first Latino to win a Hiesman Trophy in 1970. But then, when he started his career in the NFL, things didn’t go so well the first few years. After four seasons with the Patriots and another one with the 49ers, he was out and everyone thought his career was done. It took two more years for the Raiders to hire him as a quarterback and it was coach Tom Flores who gave him a chance to prove to the world he was a real champ.
So he was back, against all odds. And what a comeback it was! He played for the Raiders for seven more seasons and got them two Super Bowl rings (1981 and 1984).
It is thanks to Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett that we all have a tío who is now seriously thinking about moving to Vegas. It also explains why it doesn’t matter if the Raiders are playing in LA, Oakland, Vegas or Mexico City, Raider Nation’s love affair with the Latinx runs hella deep…