Cardinals fullback Terrelle Smith speaks about Sonora Bowl II Sunday while members of the U.S. team and Maricopa county supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox (right) look on.
Rolando Cantu has been on both sides of the football fence with the United States and Mexico. He grew up in Mexico and played college football there, but played high school ball in Texas and in the NFL with the Cardinals.
So he can see the benefit of Senora Bowl II, a matchup of high school all-stars between Arizona prep players and prep players from Sonora, Mexico to be played a week before Super Bowl XLII at Glendale's Copper Canyon High School.
"It is bragging rights," said Cantu, now the Cardinals' manager of international business ventures. "Anytime you can knock off the (United) States in their own sport, it's a challenge and it'd be great.
"Fundamentally speaking, these (Arizona) guys are going to be better than the Mexicans. … (But) the kids from Mexico, hey, they play on fields made of gravel. They have a lot of heart."
The first Sonora Bowl took place before the last Super Bowl in Arizona, back in 1996. Organized by both the Arizona Super Bowl committee and those involved with the first Sonora game, the idea is to strengthen relations between the neighboring states.
The Arizona/U.S. squad, coached by Tempe Marcos de Niza High School's Ray Lopez, gathered Sunday at the Cardinals' Tempe complex for both a press conference and an initial team practice.
The game will cap a full day's worth of clinics and festivities, which will include Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and Sonora governor Eduardo Bours Castelo and a pair of honorary spokesmen from the NFL: Cardinals fullback Terrelle Smith and Steelers tackle Marvel Smith – both products of Arizona State University.
Terrelle Smith, on hand Sunday, said he and his friends at ASU had always talked, if they made it big, "what we'd do to give back."
"This is perfect, because it's about football," Smith said.
The event begins with a football clinic for selected inner-city kids at 9 a.m. Then comes an autograph session and "Cardinals' Experience," a smaller version of the NFL Experience being held for the Super Bowl.
The Sonora Bowl itself kicks off at 3 p.m.
Cantu said Mexico has produced four home-grown players in the NFL including himself, no surprise since the sport is still relatively new to the country. Cantu figured the number will only climb in the next five to eight years, and it's already growing "to where it's starting to turn some heads in the U.S."
The U.S. team, meanwhile, had a walk-through Sunday and will try to get in enough practice over two weeks to ready themselves for the game.
"Everyone here is excited to represent not only Arizona but the U.S., and with it tied into the Super Bowl, anything with the Super bowl should be a big event," said Phoenix Desert Vista tight end Steven Figueroa, a high school all-American who will attend Arizona State.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 1/13/08.