Throughout the years, the National Football League has worked extensively to grow the game of football in Mexico -- from playing a regular-season game each year in Mexico City, to starting up more youth programs in the country to get kids involved from a young age.
But there’s likely no better historical ambassador for the league in Mexico than Tom Fears, who was the first man born in Mexico to both become a head coach in the NFL and be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Born in Guadalajara, Fears was the son of a Mexican mother and a father who worked in Mexico, but was a U.S. citizen. Fears moved with his family to Los Angeles at the age of 6, and later, as a youth, started his journey in football.
After excelling in college at UCLA, Fears signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1947 and immediately started setting records as a wide receiver.
He caught a then-NFL record 77 passes for 1,013 yards in 12 games in 1949, and broke that record by catching 84 passes for 1,116 yards in 1950.
In an era in which the forward pass wasn’t used nearly as much as it is today, those numbers were astounding.
In 1950, he also set a single-game NFL record by catching 18 passes in a matchup against the Green Bay Packers, a record that stood until 2000, when Terrell Owens of the San Francisco 49ers caught 20 passes in a game.
Fears retired from playing in 1956 and then began a coaching career, serving as an assistant coach for the Rams, Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
In 1967, Fears was named the head coach of the expansion New Orleans Saints, becoming the first man born in Mexico to be named head coach of an NFL team.
Fears’ coaching tenure with the Saints ended in 1970, the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
After that, Fears spent the next 20 years in an assortment of coaching, scouting and front-office roles in the NFL and other smaller professional leagues that never got off the ground.
In 1994, Fears was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually died from it in 2000.
But even after his death more than two decades ago, Fears still serves as a role model to follow for those in Mexico aspiring to pursue American football.