Few Costa Ricans likely noticed when on the afternoon of Jan. 22, Baltimore Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff hooked what should have been an easy field goal wide left, sending the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl.
Anthony Díaz did not miss it. And, oh boy, did everyone nearby notice Díaz.
From inside the U.S.-style sports bar Chubbs, in western San José, the sharp-cut Tico in the Tom Brady jersey jumped and screamed, cavorting with a colossal, bald man from Boston. Sulking Ravens fans observed from an adjacent table.
“I don’t know how he missed that kick. I don’t know what happened there,” said Díaz, from Heredia, north of the capital. “But to me, great!”
Díaz, 33, represents a small Costa Rican population of die-hard NFL fans. He might even be the country’s biggest Patriots fan.
When the New England Patriots take on the New York Giants this Sunday at 5:30 p.m., it’ll likely be the highest-rated TV program in U.S. history. In Costa Rica, the Super Bowl will take a backseat to local soccer matches. Despite an increase in popularity and availability in Latin America, most Costa Ricans stick to football that’s played with one’s feet.
Still, Costa Rica’s contingent of NFL fans show more than a casual interest. Jonathan Gómez started a Facebook page called NFL Fans Costa Rica. Although the group has a meager 235 fans, they are a vocal crowd. They make Super Bowl predictions, watch favorite plays and analyze the merits of polarizing Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.
Díaz said the recent highlight of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson’s front flip over a defender in the end zone is what he shows any friends that ask him why he likes football. Another popular video on the Facebook page is one of Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski telling a Spanish-language reporter, “Yo soy fiesta.” (Not surprisingly, Gronkowski’s Spanish proficiency has turned into a catchphrase in New England, too.)
Gómez can bring a logical analysis on why he believes the Giants will win. His calculation begins with the Giants dominant ground game and ends with “I hate the Patriots.”
Isaí Reyes, 25, has been a Patriots fan since their Super Bowl win in 2004. A friend from the United States explained to him the rules that year. Soon, Reyes’ enthusiasm for the Patriots grew into an obsession with the whole league.
Reyes has a guest spot on Costa Rica’s Radio America on most afternoons during the season to discuss the sport. He’s hosting a Super Bowl party with his best friend – coincidentally, a Giants fan – and inviting players in an amateur Tico football league.
“Starting every Sunday morning to the games on Monday night, I’m following every game from the regular season to the playoffs, to this Sunday’s Super Bowl,” said Reyes, of Heredia.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Díaz will go with his friend Orlando Solís to the same Chubbs’ table where they sat for every NFL Sunday this year. Football goes beyond Sunday for the two. They both downloaded NFL iPhone apps, text each other about breaking news and read up on past NFL legends.
In recent history, the Giants have dogged Díaz and the Patriots. Díaz started rooting for the Patriots during their undefeated regular season in 2007, a year that ended with an incredible loss to the Giants in the final minutes of the Super Bowl. In November, Díaz attended his first NFL game: The contest between the Patriots and the Giants at chilly Gillette Stadium just outside Boston, Massachusetts, ended with another come-from-behind victory for New York.
The Patriots have not lost since that match, having won 10 straight. The Giants struggled to make the playoffs before a late hot streak. They enter as underdogs. But knowing the recent narrative, Díaz offers a cautious prediction for Super Bowl XLVI.
“Last time it was the Super Pats and the poor Giants,” Díaz said. “This time I think we can work with [less pressure]. I think this time we can win by three points. It’ll be very, very close.”