Jets rookie QB Sanchez takes pride in his Mexican heritage

It didn't matter to any of the callers that Mark Sanchez had four turnovers against the New Orleans Saints three days earlier. By the time he was done talking, he had accomplished his task. The Mexican media loved him.

The questions came quickly during the teleconference. Folks asked about Sanchez's connection with Mexican fans. About his playing in New York, a city with a large Hispanic population. Sanchez laughed when asked about his favorite food.

"My mother makes chorizo for breakfast a lot," he said. "She also makes very good enchiladas."

It was a perfect performance, only it wasn't a performance. Sanchez was at ease with the questions because that's who he is.

2009 Statistics
Comp/Att: 63/110

Passing Yards: 744

TD/INT: 4/5

"He was perfect," said Juan Carlos Vazquez Ruiz, NFL play-by-play man for Mexico's TV Azteca. "He is Mexican."

For New York Jets fans, Sanchez is the savior, the rookie quarterback charged with leading the team to the playoffs and beyond. They want him to be a latter-day Broadway Joe Namath, tearing it up on the field and dazzling the city at night. They see Sanchez in GQ magazine and watch him lead their favorite team to early victories and can't help but flash back to Namath and Super Bowl III. For them, Sanchez is a dream, the player who can do the most to produce a championship.

A few thousand miles to the south, Sanchez is even more. To a country still cultivating its passion for the NFL, Sanchez is a link to the league they have never had before. He is a full-fledged Mexican-American quarterback, whose grandparents came to the United States and built a life.

In the long history of the NFL, Sanchez is unique. Though players such as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo have Mexican roots, they didn't embrace them as Sanchez does. And the teleconference last week with writers and broadcasters gave him the chance to show how proud he is to play that role.

List of Hispanic players growing

The NFL continues to feature Hispanic players who star for their teams, including Jets QB Mark Sanchez. Here's a list of current players with Hispanic heritage:

Ken Amato, LS, Tennessee

Greg Camarillo, WR, Miami

Jonathan Casillas, LB, New Orleans

Luis Castillo, DE, San Diego

Shaun Cody, OT, Houston

Willie Colon, OT, Pittsburgh

Brian De La Puente, G, Seattle

Roberto Garza, C, Chicago

Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta

Joselio Hanson, CB, Philadelphia

Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Chicago

Glenn Martinez, WR, Houston

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver

Manny Ramirez, G, Detroit

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas

Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
Lou Saucedo, OT, Baltimore

Daniel Sepulveda, P, Pittsburgh

Anthony Toribio, DT, Green Bay

Mario Urruita, WR, Tampa Bay

Jose Valdez, OT, Atlanta

Louis Vasquez, G, San Diego

"I think it is an honor to play in a country where I can celebrate my [Mexican] heritage," Sanchez said. "When I have a chance to play on TV and have a chance to represent Mexican fans, I want to represent them well."

Though he was born in Southern California, Sanchez is a third-generation Mexican-American, and when he arrived at USC in 2005, he began to attract a lot of attention. It's one thing to have Mexican roots in Orange County and quite another in Los Angeles, where there are 4.6 million Latinos, about 3 million of whom are of Mexican descent. By the time Sanchez became the Trojans' starting quarterback, in '08, he was not just the triggerman at one of the nation's top football programs. He also was a source of pride for the local Mexican community -- and even Mexico itself.

That self-esteem swelled last November, when Sanchez wore a mouthpiece -- given to him by team dentist Dr. Ramon Roges -- decorated with the three colors (red, green and white) of the Mexican flag. Even though Sanchez received some negative feedback from people who were offended that he demonstrated a commitment to his heritage, he was undaunted. That further endeared him to the Mexican community.

"He says what people want to hear," Vazquez Ruiz said. "He says he wants to play at [Mexico City's] Azteca Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. Saying that to the media is perfect. Jeff Garcia (currently a free agent) and Tony Romo have never said that."

Sanchez isn't just mouthing platitudes. He does want to play in Azteca Stadium. He wants to be part of the community in New York, although it's too early in his career for him to have charted a definitive course of action.

"Being active in the community is important to him," NFL spokeswoman Darlene Capiro said.

Sanchez proved that while at USC. He distributed school supplies to needy children in East Los Angeles and joined mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a "Day of Service," where he met at-risk teenage boys. Sanchez worked hard to learn Spanish, the better to converse with Hispanics here in the United States and Mexicans south of the border.

"It's important for me to identify with the fans and let them know how much I appreciate their support," Sanchez said. "I want to set the right example. I did that in college, and I want to continue that.

"I want to reinforce that message in an area [New York], where there is a high population of Mexican-Americans. I want to let them know I care about them."

They already care about him. Vazquez Ruiz reports when TV Azteca broadcast the Jets' season opener against the Houston Texans, ratings soared "20 percent when compared to the past seven years." When the Jets are on again, Nov. 1 against the Miami Dolphins, Vazquez Ruiz predicts another 20 percent boom. And if the NFL wants to boost apparel sales, it will start shipping Sanchez jerseys to Mexico. Now.

"We don't want another jersey," Vazquez Ruiz said. "We want a Mark Sanchez jersey."

And why not? After all, he is Mexican and proud of it.

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