I am staying in the spire of Club Quarters on the river and so there are only about 3 rooms on the floor. (The rooms are shaped funny too.) This morning I walked out at the exact same time as my neighbors and they were also on their way to the rugby game. It was the first of many fun, short conversations with other fans.
I walked a half block to the Corner Bakery and ordered breakfast. I start walking towards an open table when I realize I am walking by Richie McCaw. Only my mind processed it as “Oh my gosh, that is RICHIE MCCAW!!! I am walking past RICHIE MCCAW!!!” He is the captain of the All Blacks most games and he is one of the best players in the world. Oh, he is also gorgeous. I was so excited I was shaking and if you asked me my name right then I would have been stumped.
I barely had my coat, scarf and gloves off when Richie McCaw walks past me as he exits the restaurant. No one seems to even notice him. Maybe they are all giving him his space. I smile at him with a big stupid grin and cannot even muster a “hi”. I had to say something to someone so I walked over to the people who were sitting just across from them. They had New Zealand Rugby shirts on, so I blurted, “Can you believe it? That was Richie McCaw!”
The man says “I thought it was him,” and his wife turns to him and says, “Why didn’t you say something?!”
It is hard to eat breakfast after seeing one of your heroes. I texted lots of people to share. I figured today is going to be a great rugby day.
And it was.
The long walk to Soldier Field was in the company of many rugby fans. I stopped at the Chicago Bean to take photos and the Art Institute and the Field Museum for the haka exhibit. (Future posts). It is a long way round Soldiers Field. Ultimately I found the Fan Zone party. Met some more great rugby fans and saw lots of craziness.
The weather today was better than yesterday when it was snowing. It was still cold walking to the stadium. When I got to my seat the sun was beaming down and suddenly I had to strip off my coat, scarf and gloves. I actually got a sunburn!
I made sure I got to my seat in plenty of time to see the All Blacks do the haka. First the national anthems were performed. The USA anthem was tough to hear over the fireworks and people cheering. Then more cheering for the USA when photos of the flag appeared on the various screens. Finally the moment I have been anticipating for months: the ABs get in formation for the haka. And then the big doofuses behind me start chanting “USA, USA”. I did not have a hard time finding my voice in this moment. I turned around and said, “Stop being disrespectful” They actually stopped. Then they said, “It’s not disrespectful. USA, USA” and the guys on my right said, “Yes, it is!” really forcefully. And they stopped. Unfortunately, the haka was almost over.
There were a few more USA chants but soon the ABs shut them up with their play. I just do not think most of the American fans had any idea what the best in the world rugby looks like. And this was the All Blacks’ B team.
My tweets tell the story. After the third AB try in less than 20 minutes I stopped reporting the score. The final score was 74 to 6 New Zealand.
People around me found the USA’s performance really unsettling. They said goofy things like “New Zealand is so good in rugby because it is the only sport they play.” The guy next to me was really upset by the lopsided score, “This will set rugby back in the US for years.” I asked him why and he did not answer my question.
If US fans want to know what it takes to be number one in the world, they only had to stick around after the game ended. The “A” group of players who sat out the game began a work out on the field that was impressive.
Walking back to the hotel was crowded and many of the rugby clubs were still enjoying their big day out. And a lot less beer is available in Chicago tonight.