HOUSTON -- They probably don't know it, but Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and 74,515 rabid Midwesterners deserve credit for growing the game of football in Hungary.
In January 1994, a young sportscaster from Budapest named Richard Farago was visiting friends in America and attended a playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Farago was captivated by the play of Chiefs stars Montana and Allen and the roaring chants of Kansas City's diehard fans. The Chiefs won in overtime, and Farago became hooked on American football.
"You can't describe it," Farago said. "That was a turning point for me."
Today, Farago is a key figure in the growth of football in Hungary. He is a patriarch of the sport in that nation, having served as the primary play-by-play announcer since NFL games started being broadcast there in 2004. One of his broadcast partners, Mark Bencsics, said Farago is "the face of the NFL in Hungary."
On Sunday, Farago and Bencsics will broadcast Super Bowl LI for the Sport TV network in Hungarian -- one of the nine languages in which the big game will broadcast live by crews at NRG Stadium. (The others are Danish, English, Flemish, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.) It will be 12:30 a.m. Monday in Budapest when the game between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots is scheduled to kick off.
This will be the 11th consecutive year that Farago has announced the Super Bowl live from the site of the game. The stretch started in epic fashion, with the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester opening Super Bowl XLI with a 92-yard touchdown return.
"We were screaming like pigs," Farago said. "It was our first Super Bowl. What is the chance that there is a touchdown from the [opening] kickoff return?"
Farago, 49, began his sports broadcasting career with Hungarian national television in 1991. He covered some of the world's biggest sporting events, from the Olympics to the World Cup to the UEFA Champions League. He jumped to Sport TV in 2004 specifically because that network acquired broadcast rights to the NFL. Recalling that Chiefs playoff game a decade earlier, he wanted in on the action.
"It was a challenge for me," Farago said. "It was very different broadcasting NFL than broadcasting soccer. It was like pioneer work. That's why I decided."
Bencsics, 28, has played American football since he was 15. By age 17, he was named starting quarterback on an adult club team, playing alongside men more than 10 years older.
"I think I was very lucky because my first coach was very open-minded," Bencsics said. "It wasn't a problem to him to give a starting position to a guy who was 17 years old. It was quite challenging, but football was everything for me."
Sport TV hired Bencsics as a color commentator for its NFL broadcasts in 2009, when he was just 20 years old. He debuted by calling Brett Favre's highly anticipated return to Lambeau Field as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, but he recalls his first broadcast as "terrible" because he didn't realize he kept repeating the same phrase.
"I always said 'that's right' to Richard -- hundreds of times, maybe even more," Bencsics joked.
Back on the playing field, his teammates repeatedly teased him about the matter. Before long, they were saying "that's right" instead of "break" when they stepped out of the huddle.
Bencsics is still an active player. He's the starting quarterback for the Hungarian national team, which began play in 2015, and he also plays for the Budapest Wolves, one of the top teams in the Hungarian American Football League. He doesn't get paid by either team; he plays because he is passionate about the sport. This will be the second Super Bowl for Bencsics, who previously called Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. He is one of five NFL color commentators at Sport TV, and they rotate Super Bowl duties from year to year.
Although Farago and Bencsics have no support crew -- they truly are a two-man band -- they greatly enjoy their work and are proud to have played a role in the recent growth of American football in Hungary. They said it's now common to see fans wearing team caps in the streets, and it's not unusual to see kids throwing around footballs at play -- something almost unimaginable just a decade ago. Bencsics believes many young sports fans in Hungary are looking for an edgier, more physical game to watch than soccer.
"We're a bit fed up with soccer and [players] acting like divas," Bencsics joked. "This sport is tough, and it's also like a chess game."