Boy, oh boy. What a weekend for this political warrior. First, I went to Chicago, the bad horror show of politics that has plagued America for over 100 years now. Second, I went to see the USA Eagles play the Australian Wallabies. The Wallabies, who aren’t nearly as cuddly as they sound, are ranked third in the world, in a sport that is truly international. The Eagles are ranked 16th, behind the likes of France, (gasp!) and Georgia. (The country, for you Lefties reading this article). So I was expecting a small crowd of diehard Ruggers and a blowout of epic proportions.
Instead, what I found was the second largest crowd EVER for a rugby match featuring the USA Eagles, and the Spirit of American Exceptionalism. (<—-Read that!)
In the first half, the only points scored by the Wallabies was during a “sin bin” period when 2nd rower Greg Peterson, was sent off the pitch for “professional foul”, which means he was slowing the Wallabies in an ungentlemanly way. During the 10 minutes he was off, and the Eagles were a man short, the Wallabies scored two tries. (Touchdowns in American football parlance). During that whole time, the Eagles punished the Wallabies physically, and from the sidelines, (Thanks, Nick Sero!) it was obvious the Eagles strategy was paying off. And when the sides were equal again, the Eagles got 10 points in thrilling fashion. At the half, it was Wallabies 14 and the Eagles 10. The Wallabies looked a little stunned and a bit disorganized. I am sure they were not used to that feeling, being the guests in a country that doesn’t know a scrum from a ruck.
The second half, the Eagles did not fare as well. If you read other accounts of the contest, the Wallabies had it well in hand. But to use a football phrase, “You can’t win the game with that many turnovers.” The Eagles showed flashes of pure brilliance and tough physical challenges that drained the Wallabies, but they also fumbled away at least two opportunities that directly led to points for the visitors. The game finished Wallabies 47, Eagles 10. It could have so easily been a 24-23 Eagles win, if not for the handling errors. (Rugby term for fumbling)
Here’s the thing that struck me though, as well as Michael Cheika, the Wallabies head coach. At no point did the Eagles fans sit down and take the beating peacefully. The Eagles fought hard and physically, and the fans kept chanting “USA! USA! USA!”, even when the Eagles were down 40-10. Coach Cheika (http://www.rugby.com.au/wallabies/TheTeam/HeadCoach.aspx), when asked about the home crowd, was very complimentary. He described the US crowd as “Awesome”, and “Very passionate”. He was surprised at the hospitality of the crowd after the game, and the spirit of gentility the crowd of Eagles supporters showed him and the Wallabies. He also told me after the game, he thought rugby was very close to erupting in popularity. He also told a personal story about how he almost came to play rugby here in the US when he played.
When asked the same question about the US supporters, the coach of the Eagles, Mike Tolkin, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Tolkin) and the Team Captain, Chris Wyles, both were very complimentary. Both felt the US crowd was very loud, always supportive, and helped buoy the spirits of the Eagles. Some of the Eagles made comments to me about how they felt the respect and admiration of their supporters, and felt bad for letting them down. (From my perspective, they didn’t let me down. I was entirely impressed with their effort, especially against the Wallabies.) And, unlike other sports, these players loved talking to their fans. They spent at least 45 minutes after the game taking pictures with their fans, and Wallabies fans. It is also interesting to note that no one, and I mean NO ONE, got up to leave the stadium, even though the game’s conclusion was certain. They all stayed to the bitter end.
What I saw from the Wallaby players after the game was a bit of shyness. They didn’t know what to do with an opposing side that was so friendly and eager to meet with them. I saw several head quickly to the locker rooms, looking unsure, only to walk back out a moment later to go around the crowd and take pictures and selfies with the Americans. They seemed to loosen up when they found out our friendliness was genuine. This is a team who just got done pounding us to paste, and here we were welcoming them. If that’s not exceptional, I don’t know what is.
And the Eagles were gracious in defeat, and terrific hosts, according to the Wallabies I talked to. The Eagles provided “top notch” and “superb” facilities to the Wallabies, and they were appreciative of it.
Americans love an underdog, and the Eagles are certainly that. Anyone who watches the show knows I am a big man. I didn’t run into a single Wallaby as small as I was, even the Coach was bigger. In fact, one of the players from the Wallabies was so big, he could stand on the field and take a selfie with the crowd without angling the camera up. But the Eagles, from my perspective, were undersized. I met the whole team. Some were a bit smaller than me, and some larger. The fact that Coach Cheika was impressed by the physicality of the Eagles, says a lot for our Eagles team, and America.
Even though the Eagles lost, they didn’t lose their Esprit d’Corps, and the fans cheered for them to the very bitter end, never giving up hope, and knowing that we gave as good as we got. The spirit of never say die, the “can-do” attitude, along with the graciousness of their behavior, (that’s for the Australians) is something that sets America and Americans apart. I’m proud to be an American, and I am proud we showed our Exceptionalism when the eyes of the world were turned to Chicago.
Patrick Bertroche, DO