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This morning, I went to the Ireland captain’s run at Soldier Field and then walked down to the Irish team hotel. It took me a while, in part because of the swelling crowds for the Cubs rally.
During the walk, for the entirety of the walk, there seemed to be someone in Cubs gear in sight.
The last time I was in Chicago, it was on match day for USA v New Zealand. Walking down Michigan Avenue toward Soldier Field, seeing all of the rugby gear and jerseys made me giddy. Typically, my thinking is that rugby should be the center of sporting attention all the time. And on that day two years ago, in Chicago, it felt like rugby was pretty darn central.
Last night, on the flight from Philadelphia, there were others heading to Chicago for rugby. As we were boarding, I had the feeling like I was heading to somewhere where rugby would be central again. And then we landed. When we landed, the flight crew announced that we had landed in the home of the world champion Chicago Cubs, and a cheer went up.
My rugby bubble was burst.
In this instance, I don’t mind. The Cubs victory has gone well beyond a sporting event; it is a cultural moment in America. We, the American rugby community, need to be secure that what we’re a part of is good and will grow.
Normally, the typical noise of American sports news drowning out rugby-specific news and events is aggravating. Maybe it was the sunshine. Maybe it was the knowledge that I’ll be attending two matches this weekend I am really looking forward to. Whatever the reason, I only enjoyed all of the blue and the “W” flags.
The USA match is, at least in downtown Chicago, the undercard for The Rugby Weekend, and The Rugby Weekend itself is never going to steal headlines from the Cubs this fall.
As rugby grows in America, events like The Rugby Weekend are going to have to nestle in and find their place. Rugby can have a secure place alongside great cultural moments like today’s parade for the Cubs.
Successful teams and successful events generate enthusiasm in people, both the familiar and unfamiliar. The Cubs show that a team does not need to always win to attract fans, but a team that does win has a much easier time capturing the attention of a city and nation.
Relying on other successful teams, like Ireland and New Zealand, to stir the enthusiasm pot is good for now, but let’s hope that the USA sides continue to improve so that we can welcome in any side who wants to play in America even when the enthusiasm exists even in their absence.
I am happy that Chicago is happy. I am happy that there are fans in the city from Ireland and New Zealand excited to watch Saturday’s match but aren’t going to Friday night’s match. But what would make me happiest is a full crowd at Toyota Park watching the Eagles give them the best reason of all to be enthusiastic.