Ricardo Santibanez had the surprise planned for Monday, a day after his father’s birthday. Here’s how he envisioned it unfolding: He would tell his dad to check his backpack, and his father would open the bag to find a gift.
The two residents of Puebla, Mexico, a few hours from Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, have long talked about wishing they could attend a Chiefs game, but they’re unable to afford travel to Kansas City. The schedule had lined up so perfectly this year: The Chiefs were coming to them.
“More than anything, it was a moment that I looked forward to sharing with my dad,” Santibanez said in an interview with The Star. “This is a huge sadness of the cancellation of the game here in Mexico. We don’t have the possibility of leaving the country to see a game of my Chiefs.”
The combination of a rainy season, a new hybrid grass-synthetic field surface and recent concerts prompted damage to the field that “presents unnecessary risks to player safety and makes it unsuitable to host an NFL game,” said Mark Waller, the NFL executive vice president of international.
The site change triggered an emotional effect for Santibanez.
It prompted a financial effect for many others. Fans from Kansas City and beyond had already booked airfare and lodging and were scrambling Tuesday for a Plan B.
Mostly without success.
Dirk Seager, a Chiefs fan who lives in Springfield, was told his $1,400 hotel stay in Mexico was completely nonrefundable. An attempt to switch flight destinations from Mexico City to Los Angeles would have cost another $350. So rather than attending the Chiefs game, he and his brother will be watching from a bar in Mexico City.
“It’s just really annoying,” Seager said. “The NFL, Chiefs and Rams promised us something, and we made the decision to go. We held up our end, and they’re not delivering on theirs. It’s six days before the game. You shouldn’t get ready to go on vacation, ready to go have a fun time and then have to deal with this.”
Brian Stewart, another Chiefs fan, was more than just ready to go.
He’s already there.
Stewart and his wife, along with another couple, arrived in Mexico on Monday. When he received a text message from his son Tuesday about the possibility of moving the game, he assumed it was a joke.
“I thought he was just jacking with me,” Stewart said. “I understand player safety, but you know what, this has been going on for a month now. I’m frustrated they waited until less than a week before the game. That’s the problem for me. Everyone in the world knows you don’t book travel plans a week in advance.”
Several Chiefs fans had planned trips as part of big groups, some from Kansas City and some from much farther distances.
Domenic Marinelli is a season-ticket holder despite living full-time in Winnipeg, Canada. He fell in love with the Chiefs after attending just one game at Arrowhead Stadium. He made friends at tailgates. A group of 14 people from Winnipeg, Kansas City and Houston booked an AirBnB stay nearing $2,000.
The group traded messages throughout Tuesday — initially hoping something would get resolved and eventually just trying to figure out what to do next.
“We assumed or hoped it was the NFL trying to push their weight around and get them to move faster to get everything in order,” Marinelli said. “I can’t believe the NFL wouldn’t be on this a little sooner and not allow it to get to this. We understand that when we buy tickets, there’s always the chance an act of God disrupts the plans. But when it’s the field playing conditions, that’s disappointing. That shouldn’t happen.
“Having said all that, obviously we spend a lot of money on the Chiefs, and we have no interest in them playing if that meant risking injury. In the end, we’ll be back to Kansas City in January and hopefully in Atlanta in February.”