MEXICO CITY – The Raiders must cross two time zones to play the Houston Texans Monday night in Mexico City. They aren’t doing so until Sunday evening.
That isn’t standard practice for long road trips. The Raiders leave two full days before any game east of the Mountain Time Zone.
This one is different, and done by design. Mexico City sits 7,382 feet above sea level, an altitude that can hinder athletic performance.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio believes in spending as little time as possible in such thin air, looking to get his teams in and out quickly. He uses a similar strategy at Denver, which sits 2,000 feet lower than the grand Mexican capital.
Del Rio’s theory is based on the fact a few days won’t acclimate the body to high elevations, so spending less time in fatigue-inducing environments should help players deal with the elements.
Air that high has less oxygen, leading to shortness of breath and an increased heart rate for those not used to altitude. It can cause insomnia and dehydration as well, all negatives for athletes playing a high-stakes game.
It’s particularly rough on the big guys, already dealing with extra weight and pads while having to exert strength on every snap.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s going to be tough,” left tackle Donald Penn, who played a Utah State, which sits at 4,534 feet. “We play regularly in Denver and I went to school in Utah and dealt with it then. It’s tough but, when that second wind hits, you’re good. You just hope the second wind hits early. When that happens, everything works out well and you just play.”
The Raiders have tried to downplay altitude issues all week, saying that hydration and perseverance are key to dealing with higher elevations. They have tried to combat it some during the practice week to improve cardiovascular fitness in lighter air -- the strength and conditioning staff remains silent on the matter -- to be as prepared as possible when they arrive in Mexico City. The Raiders are also bringing their own food and water to avoid the prospect of getting sick as some tourists do.
“We know we have to travel to play well regardless of the circumstances,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We understand some of the issues that are there, potentially. That’s been addressed. We’ll put our plan together and go down and compete. I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere. It sold out quickly. People are going to be excited to put on a good show down there. It should be a heck of a game.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has dealt with this specific altitude before. The University of Wyoming sits at a similar height to Mexico City, and Carr played their a few times with Fresno State.
It could have an impact, but he believes it’s only an excuse if you make it one. The Raiders have done an excellent job travelling this year, with a perfect 5-0 record in hostile environments. They don’t excuse poor play for any reason, and they won’t let that happen playing outside the United States, at great altitude.
“You definitely can feel it,” Carr said. “But, it’s just something, it’s like weather, whether it’s altitude or weather or whatever. If you let it affect you it will. Just keep the mindset that it won’t. It’s not going to affect you if you go into it with that kind of mindset.”