NEW YORK, NY – When chatting with Tyson Meek (click here) during their shared van ride from the stadium to their hotel in Rio, USA Rugby CEO Dan Payne aptly noted, “Once you get the rugby bug, it is an irrational passion forever.” Having dedicated a life to covering the game – perhaps compensating for a mediocre but thoroughly enjoyable and way-too-long playing career, yours truly fully understands that. In fact, I’m spent and hoarse just from cheering at the Pig N Whistle on West 36th Street with others sharing Payne’s aforementioned “irrational passion.” Want to feel alive? Play rugby. Can’t play? Stand on the sideline (touch line) or get seats as close as you can to the action. If that isn’t possible, watch in a room full of rugby-mad, undeniably-afflicted fanatics. If you do, you’ll feel it. You’ll catch that bug.
But the bug has it’s downside; its effects can linger. In the aftermath of a few glorious but cruelly compressed days of Olympic history, this writer found himself sluggish, slow, and hard-pressed to speak (a blessing for many of you). But then the fog lifted. The caffeine started working again. The urge to respond to the posts, texts, emails and phone messages about our Women and Men falling short got the motor running. In measured words Mark Twain said, “The hardest thing about writing is getting your fanny in the seat.” Well… fanny and seat have reunited.
One text exchange that stood out was from a friend that just recently caught the bug. It came shortly after Mike Friday’s Eagles beat Brazil, after dropping a heart-breaker to a very good Argentinian side.
FRIEND: “Can we still win a medal? The women stunk.”
ME: “The Men do have a chance and the Women actually played way over their heads to come in 5th. They tied the Gold Medalists (Australia) and lost by one score to New Zealand, who got the Silver.”
What my friend didn’t know – and it’s up to pundits like moi to provide the info – is that the Men’s Eagles were in disarray 18 months ago, having gone from an interim coach to their captain acting as player/coach to finally bringing in a world-class coach in Mike Friday. The team was ranked 13th and in real peril of not qualifying for these Olympics, which would have been catastrophic. Granted, the Rio scoreboard has them placing 9th but it doesn’t reflect that they nearly beat Fiji, the Gold Medal winners. The fact that we’re even able to to muster disappointment in them for not getting a medal, speaks volumes as to how far the program has come in so short a time. And for those asking why they didn’t do what they did versus Spain in their other matches, like against Fiji, it’s coconuts to olives. Without disrespecting the valiant Spaniards, there is no comparison.
As for the USA Women’s 7s squad? They were nothing short of heroic. Placing fifth was not something any of us us predicted. Their coaching carousel chaos made the Men’s mess look downright placid. Coach Richie Walker zipped into a quagmire. Injuries, personnel turnover, bruised egos… Their Dare To Dream campaign was all but a nightmare. But a funny thing happened on the way to the
forum… stadium: These Eagles became a team. Their epic draw versus the eventual champion Aussies nailed us all right between the eyes. Just when we thought we were out, they sucked us back in… and even after the gutty, gritty, Rocky vs Creed-like loss to New Zealand, they played on. This fifth was Golden.
No Medals means what? In this case, it means that with a few tweaks here, a bounce there, the next Olympics can’t come soon enough. And the bet here is there will be more Matthew McConaugheys there to watch.
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