CHICAGO, IL – In the heart of auto-racing and basketball country, the pulse of rugby is beating strong thanks to the addition of the USA Eagles – New Zealand All Blacks match to the teams’ test schedule. Scheduled for November 1, 2014 at Soldier Field in Chicago, the test match is stirring up excitement even among casual fans of the sport. Come rain, come snow, come a miracle of warm November weather, if early indications prove true, the stadium should be packed and rockin’ for this match.
This test match is literally the talk of the rugby town, at least according to the folks I spoke with. A friend of mine (whose son, Chase, plays) and I have already talked about making the trip with our boys. I’m sure my daughter will be interested, too, and maybe some of her rugby friends. A team in Fishers has parents so excited about the match they’re discussing buying tickets and traveling as a group. I asked Chase if he’d ever wanted to make plans to see a USA Eagles match, and he said, no, this is a first. When I asked him why, he said it’s because New Zealand is the top team in the world, and this would be a great opportunity to see them. I’m excited to see the Haka live and in person!
And I think most folks feel that way, especially here in a neighboring state to Illinois. The travel costs for us here in Indiana don’t involve purchasing a plane ticket, something for which we are truly grateful. I’d love to travel to Houston in early June, but the cost precludes me from doing so. This is the closest match, geographically speaking, we’ve had since I’ve been paying attention to rugby, and it involves 2 of my favorite teams. Plus, Chicago is a very fun city and it could even be a mini-vacation for families. Literally right next door to Soldier Field sit famous Chicago places to visit – The Field Museum of Natural History (can’t miss), and the Shedd Aquarium. Close by is the Art Museum, also a great place to visit. Hotels are plentiful, and you can stay anywhere from northwest Indiana to downtown Chicago.
The All Blacks are just a great team to admire, and it’s what the USA Eagles are striving to become. Being excited about seeing the great NZ team doesn’t mean I hope for the Eagles to lose, far from it. Playing the best provides an opportunity to prepare for the best. It also provides an opportunity to elevate the sport in the United States, give fans a chance to see some great rugby, and cheer for our Eagles as they prepare for the RWC 2015 (which is sneaking up fast). All in all, it’s a win-win for USA Rugby and rugby in general here in the U.S. #cannotwait!
A different take on reactions:
As I followed the rumors about the All Blacks coming to Chicago, I thought, “Maybe I will go.” Then I watched the promo video released with the official announcement. Maybe is dead.
My worries, though, are plentiful and very much alive.
One of the things that USA Rugby needs to be clear about moving forward is that there are two communities. One community is players, coaches, refs, and others associated with actively participating directly in the sport. The other community is fans of the Eagles/professional rugby. While there is overlap between the two communities, they are not the same and they care about different things.
I talked to my brother and my sister about the announcement of the match, two people who love playing, coaching, and being involved with rugby. A paraphrase of their reactions: “Meh.” They are not part of the community of fans, despite the fact that they both love the game. The NBC broadcast matters more to them than where the game is played or how many people are in the stadium.
My friends who are sports fans but not rugby fans did not hear anything about the announcement. They might watch, but in order for them to hang in for most of the game, it will need to actually be a game and not a Harlem Globe Trotters v. Washington Generals affair. Good rugby easily watched will appeal to these sports fans. It isn’t clear the game will showcase good rugby.
On the other hand, while watching a local club game recently, a former teammate asked me about the All Blacks game in Chicago and if I thought I was going. This is the first time anyone has brought up to me an Eagles game without some sort of contextual prompting. In the Philly area, we have now had a great Eagles experience. The Maori match was everything we had hoped it would be and offered something to the fans. Students I work with who were at that game are trying to work out how they might get to Chicago for the ABs. It is hard to imagine that thinking being there if they had not already had a positive experience with the Eagles.
What is it that fans will be getting with this match? Hopefully, a big crowd in their seats early, charged for the Haka; the chance to watch rugby in a big-time stadium; the chance to see the best team and the best rugby brand on the planet. All of that is good. However, if the Eagles are blown out of the water from the first whistle, the positive mood won’t last long. Unless most who turn up care more about the All Blacks than the Eagles. In which case, I am not sure how much the game helps USA Rugby or the Eagles anyway.
I remain torn. I watched the Eagles lost by 80 to Ireland in a rinky-dink park in New Hampshire. Several years later, I thought, “It can’t be that bad again,” as I drove up to East Hartford to watch the Eagles take on Wales. They lost by 74, so I guess it wasn’t as bad, technically. Still–I watched the promo video for the November 1 match and got goosebumps. How awesome would it be to watch an Eagle–any Eagle–break through the All Blacks line and then hear the roar in Soldier Field?
The All Blacks will be in Chicago. I will be there with both my giddy goose bumps and my worries.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.