The day was hot and humid, and so was the night, for that matter. But, back to the day: while the Sevens beast runs rampant throughout most of the US, the Fifteens Wildebeest reared its ugly head north of the border in Toronto, Canada. This casual reporter laid witness, from mid-field, 9 rows up, sitting just behind the depleted Eagles bench. The sordid details of the Americans dismantling at the hands of the Maple Leafs can be read about on countless web sites, I'm sure. As always, I'm going to take you readers to a higher level of consciousness.
With Canada Day being this past Monday, there was sure to be a strong, patriotic, Canadian crowd. The game was played at historic Fletcher's Fields, which probably had the seating capacity for about 4,000 fans. It's not a bad venue, but it certainly did not have the ambiance of Robinson Field in Houston, TX where the Eagles played the 'Boks last December. Player introductions, National Anthems, etc., were pretty much what I expected - a hearty crowd. It was probably 92-93 degrees, or 34 degrees Celsius, at the time of kickoff. As the game got under way, and the Referee was setting his stall, the decidedly Canadian crowd was extremely quiet. As a matter of fact, that's pretty much how they were for the entire game. I have some very good Canadian friends, many of whom I was lucky enough to run into, so I'm truly not trying to insult anyone. But, the crowd was really lacking in outward enthusiasm. The two basic times where they would raise the noise level past a whisper were when the Canadians scored (a little too often) or when a penalty was justly, or unjustly, called against the Canadians. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, I just want to chant U-S-A, U-S-A, etc. I wanted to do it at the game too, but there just weren't enough Americans!
Granted, Western New York is not the hotbed for North American Rugby, but I venture to guess that there were no more than 150 Americans, out of 4,000 in attendance (and that includes the players.) I feel that's a little bit shameful, considering that Toronto is only about 2 hours from Buffalo. Toronto should never be considered a home game, but there should be enough US support to make you question who the home team really is. I recently read an article about the few hundred American supporters who attended the recent World Cup for Soccer. They would follow the Yanks from game to game. The article made reference to the fact that the Americans were able to have a strong vocal supporting presence in a 60,000 seat stadium dominated by their opponent's fans - and this was all the way in Korea! As the Eagles continue their summer schedule, hopefully with more positive results, it's imperative that local unions and players do their utmost to fill the stands to an overflowing capacity. Oh, I can hear the trickling of doubts oozing from your brains: "Why should I bother? What have the Eagles done for me lately? When's the last time they won a meaningful game?"
Certainly, your trepidation is not un-founded. The Eagles have not performed up to the expectations of most leaping bandwagon specialists. But put that aside for a second. As always, you have to look at the big picture. I'm not exactly sure if Enron's accountants of Arthur Anderson have finished tallying the official attendance of the Eagles v Springboks match, but yours truly was there and I would guess that more than half, maybe even ¾ of that Stadium was full. That would make the attendance in the neighborhood of 15,000 people. Did the Eagles come close to beating the Springboks? No, not really, but it was in the realm of possibility.
One of the things that made this possible was a ton of spectator support for the Eagles. It was, by far, the largest and loudest Rugby match that I've ever been to. Besides the improved performance by the Eagles, there are a multitude of greater benefits to be had by filling stadiums with exuberant Rugby fans. When you fill a stadium with people, the press is going to be there. The more people there are, the more in-depth coverage you get. If we could fill a stadium with 40,000 people, ESPN is going to knock on our door. For the first time in my middle age life, I'm really starting to think that US Soccer's grassroots youth programs, and professional programs, are starting to pay some dividends. My own brother, a die-hard Rugger, was contemplating getting up at 2am to watch the US Soccer team play a match. I don't think he did, thank God, but I'm sure some of you reading this did. There are even more of you reading this who would not do that for the US playing in the Rugby World Cup. The youth Rugby movement is on in the US. It's going to take many years and millions of man-hours before we can get the skills out of young kids. Many of us are shooting for that 2019 Rugby World Cup Championship, but getting good press and winning some real games along the way is also paramount to the development.
Just like a good Scooby Doo plot; here is the part of the story, where I suggest some solutions to our problems. Put your arses in the seats! If it's a 4-hour drive, a 6-hour drive or a $100 flight, make the commitment. Get your buddies together and go watch the Eagles play. Besides helping the US Rugby program, you get to have fun. You get a chance to get away from the job, wife, kids, etc. Better yet, take the wife or significant other with you and have a romantic weekend in another city! I also call on the US Eagles to be more ambitious and try to pick some larger venues. Granted, the Houston Committee had a strong Texas/South African contingency. I've seen almost too many games in Balboa Stadium in San Francisco. It is a nice field but it holds, how many? Whoever organizes those games could have a bigger venue and do more work to fill it! In most of the games that I've seen, they fill a vast majority of the seats, so why wouldn't they work hard to get a bigger venue? Oh, I'm so confused.
Of course, without question, the other thing you can do (which I say in every other e-mail) is help out with Youth Rugby. I've put in 5 years, plan on taking a couple off, and then diving back in for another 5. I will, without question, re-pay Rugby in Spades, for what it has given me. As painful as it is for me to say, I leave you with these two words: COPY SOCCER! ? !