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I’ve seen a lot of Eagles games.

Some where the USA team has over-performed, and some where they’ve under-performed. I’ve been disappointed and pleasantly surprised. I am not sure there has been a time where I have felt the emotions I felt watching the Eagles play Saturday against Italy.

Never have the Eagles been put under that sort of pressure – playing a man down for 34 minutes against a professional Six Nations team, and playing two men down for 13 of those minutes.

And yet, the USA kept on playing. They made adjustments – moving forwards into the backs (since both their centers were red carded). They changed their game plan somewhat. But they didn’t back down one inch.

Despite the heat and humidity, and the conditions were really challenging for all the players. Despite the cramps and the fatigue, and certainly the obvious disappointment that they would be losing this match, they battled on.

Scott LaValla’s head looked like he’s been whacked with a scimitar. He got patched up and back on the field. Eric Fry was called back on after thinking he was done, thanks to an injury to Shawn Pittman – Pittman’s injury clearly looked nasty but he refused to acknowledge the pain.
Lou Stanfill, Brian Doyle, Todd Clever … these guys were warriors in the face of a hopeless cause.

I love what they did, and I hope American rugby fans love what they did, too. I know it wasn’t a victory. And I know if you asked the players they’d say, yeah, we gifted Italy 17 points. And I know if for those mistakes and the unwarranted red cards in the second half, we might be talking about a victory here.

But regardless of all that, I loved what the players on the field did. I did not see one player give up. I did not see one player even slack off. They competed as hard as possible, given that they each had more field to cover, more work to do, and more frustration to endure, for the entire game.

Some day, I hope, the USA will beat a major nation. I feel it will come at some point. But even if it doesn’t come immediately, maybe we will see a winning streak against Canada and Japan. Maybe we will see a championship in the new Pacific Rim in 2013. Maybe we will see some other upset.

And if we do, it will have to be through a combination of game plan, preparation, talent, and pure heart. I saw on Saturday, the foundation of a team with heart – lots of heart.