Norm Smyth Blaze Alumni Director
Let’s back track twenty years to 1994, my sixth year playing rugby and my second year with the Chicago Blaze RFC. Ken Going from the formidable New Zealand All Blacks, decided to stop over on his trip back home to New Zealand from his coaching stint in Spain. He stopped for 6 weeks in Chicago and took an interest in the Blaze and decided to come back and make us his next project. He had my attention the moment he took the practice field and said circle up, throw me that pill, then he took dead center, and said alright any of you Polly Pufters think you can take this off me give it a shot. He showed us from the start how important possession of the ball is, you can’t score without it. From that moment on I learned the New Zealand and Going brand of rugby, see Kenny was one of three legendary Kiwi brothers from the 60’s and 70’s. His brother Sid Going is regarded as one of the best half backs of All Time and took the moniker of ”Super Sid” and is a MBE, a Member of Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Have you seen Invictus? I was next to Ken in the Chicago Blaze Club house when South Africa slotted their penalty and saved a nation, but broke every Kiwi’s heart. See New Zealand is a Rugby Nation and their National pastime, their NFL. Ken spent only a short time coaching the Blaze Fall of 94 thru Spring of 96, but left his mark in Chicago rugby lore.
Now, lets bring this blog to October 18, 2014, Vidal Martinez, Ryan Childers, and myself got the events under way leading up to the match, with a Learn Like the Pros Rugby Clinic sponsored by AIG and Lifetime Fitness in Romeoville. We took 15 youngsters through the paces of catching, passing, running lines and playing a game of ”Rookie Rugby.” This was the first time any of the kids had a rugby ball in their hands and it was rewarding to us. Vidal, Ryan and I to let them know to tune into the big match two weeks from today.
As I’m preparing to launch Beach Rugby America this summer (A Beach Rugby Tour to Destination Beach Locations), I planned a kick off party at Reggies Live on game day and the next week was spent promoting and preparing the Rugby Social Olympics games and Awards. This would be the Pre and Post Match party to tell your grand children about! Reggie’s shuttled party goers and rugby enthusiasts to and from Soldier Field. The Festivities included a wing eating contest, arm wrestling, rugby jeopardy, boat races, Rock Band Karaoke and great music from The Attics and David Allen Coe.
As game week approached, I spent the last weekend printing up 250 Beach Rugby is Coming to a Beach Near you in 2015 T-Shirts to hand out at Match Festivities. My partners Mike Trizna and Jeff Mumm goal was to give away the majority of the shirts to the Winners and Losers of the Social Olympics, goal was scored! Just was told from my friend Sue, she was already running in hers in San Francisco Monday morning. The gospel will spread on rugby whether it is played on grass, dirt or sand, it is the best team sport in the world.
The All Blacks arrived in Chicago on Sunday night and I received their and the USA teams Itinerary for the week. I set up my interviews, planned attending an Adidas Skills session, Press conferences and training sessions. One of the highlights leading up to the game was a DHL Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour on Thursday.
As I had the pleasure to finally meet my second thru 35th All Black this week, one thing they all seemed to be was humble gentlemen, just like Ken the first All Black I met. The All Blacks are the winningest team in all of sport, having won .763 of their matches. They are the current #1 ranked team and 2011 World Cup Champions defending the William Webb Ellis Trophy in next years 2015 WC in England. I had their ear and I had to tell each one that I had the pleasure to be coached by a Going, it’s the equivalent of being coached by Ditka in football in New Zealand.
The Americans that I interviewed included rising stars Daniel Barrett, Blaine Scully and Adam Siddall and stalwart Captian Todd Clever. They all knew the task at hand was mighty, but all wanted to test themselves and the USA Eagles against the best in the World. The USA team consists of some professionals that play over seas and some amateurs that play domestically, while the All Blacks all compete in their professional league the Super 15. The Super 15 consists of teams from the southern hemisphere countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and all play my favorite brand of rugby. A dynamic, fast paced, skilled and hard hitting game is what the Americans were preparing for.
Chicago did a great job leading up to the match, hosting Gala’s, Masquerades, treating the All Blacks to the Blackhawks and Bulls games, Bears training facility, a Lost Luncheon and a Beach Rugby Kick Off.
The Match was sold out to the surprise of the Rugby World.
As 61,500 people sat in their seats, the teams came out and lined up for their respective National Anthems, once concluded each team took their sides of the Pitch as the Kiwi’s lined up for the ritual Haka. The Haka is an ancestral war dance performed before each All Blacks International Match to strike fear in their opponent. The Americans stood tall arm and arm as the All Blacks chanted, Ka Mate, Ka Mate, Ka Ora, Ka Ora .... I Die, I Die, I Live, I Live.
Barrett, my favorite current USA player lined up against the New Zealand Captain and current International Rugby Board’s player of 2013, Keiren Read. Barrett runs like Walter Payton and tackles like Dick Butkus, but a stroke of bad luck had him break his hand in the opening minutes of the match.
The match, with a spread from the bookies in the 50’s wasn’t suppose to go our way and didn’t, with a 74-6 victory for the All Blacks. The match still provided a victory for USA Rugby, by showing the #1 team and rugby world our love of this game, now let’s see you “try” in the sand.
Photos from my adventurous couple of weeks!