An Avid NFL Fan Goes To . . . A Rugby Game?
Before the first week of the NFL regular season, the first Saturday of the college football season, and all of the hoopla that is the ongoing Deflategate saga, I ventured to Soldier Field for an exhibition rugby game that pitted the U.S.A. Eagles against the Australian Wallabies.
What in God's Earth is a wallaby, you ask? Well, of course, it's a member of the kangaroo clan. We are talking about Australia here. Now that we've sorted that out, we can begin my journey into what is largely uncharted territory for the majority of American sports fans, including myself.
Now, I could have humored you with talk about scrums and rucks, but that would have been awfully insulting to rugby faithfuls who actually know what the hell they're talking about. Yes, I am a rugby virgin. But I'm finally ready to grab the keys and explore the world of rugby. My only sense of the game of rugby is probably typical to that many of you reading this right now: you know it as that sport people use as a punchline because they don't really understand it.
This avid NFL fan is searching for what rugby has to offer the American football community, past those typical uninformed punchlines.
So I hopped on I-94 on a hot, Chicago afternoon with a clear mind and a full heart for some rugby. Incidentally, I was also losing my Uber virginity on this Saturday afternoon; boy, was that a crazy weekend. I had some thoughtful conversations with a fellow Chicagoan about a variety of topics that included, but were not limited to: Kanye West (because this is Chicago we're talking about), Donald Trump, and racism in America.
I was finally dropped off on the outskirts of Soldier Field where I was greeted by a crowd that Eagles captain Chris Wyles would later describe as "electric" in his post-game press conference. All 23,112 of them were about as enthusiastic for an exhibition game as humanly possible.
The crowd was buzzing before the game began and I was greeted by a familiar voice during the national anthem. If you haven't seen Jim Cornelison perform the national anthem at the United Center, you're missing out. This guy is a local legend.
After a breathtaking national anthem rendition, the game began, and immediately I had no idea what was going on. But as the game wore on I began to get the gist. Rugby is a game a lot like football with aggression and explosive plays, but without as many stoppages. The game is like one long kickoff return, filled with the jukes, laterals, trucks and the explosive plays that NFL fans love.
A player getting discombobulated by his opponent doesn't stop the action; the game keeps moving. At one point, I thought I was watching a WWE match, while unprotected bodies were slammed onto the unforgiving Soldier Field.
It almost seems a little insane what these players are accomplishing without pads or a nice little breather now and then. But the game looked like a whole lot of fun to play and it was definitely an enjoyable experience, one I would definitely like to continue in the future.
If you're one of those fans who thinks the NFL has gotten too soft, rugby is the game for you. It's filled with jarring hits, explosive play and fast-paced action that would leave me on the floor helplessly waiting for medical attention. Now, it's easy to be dismissive over things we don't understand, but rugby definitely has something to offer the American sports fan.
So when you inevitably get sick of all the melodrama that is the NFL, change that channel to a rugby game, or go outside! Start a scrum! (or something). And have some fun because life's too short to argue about Deflategate with an Uber driver until your face turns blue.