As thousands cheered at Soldier Field, and a variety of revelers roamed downtown in their Halloween costumes Saturday, a small group of loyal rugby fans gathered at a River North bar to watch the U.S. play New Zealand’s top ranked team.
Donning rugby jerseys and cheering, their eyes were glued to a giant screen at John Barleycorn as the USA Eagles hosted a sold out test match against the New Zealand All Blacks. Paul Curran, a longtime rugby fan, looked up in awe as the cameras panned to a packed stadium.
“It’s amazing to see that stadium so full like that,” Curran, 47, of Glen Ellyn said.
Curran wasn’t expecting the U.S. to pull off a win against top-ranked New Zealand, but he said he hopes the game in Chicago will bring more attention to a sport that he’s loved for more than 30 years — one that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of American sports.
“Unfortunately I don’t get to see it as much as I’d like. I get a lot of it via the Internet,” Curran, said. “People don’t realize what a fun, exciting game this is. It’s fast-paced. To watch these guy go out there and do what they’re doing, the ups and downs, it’s just great to see here at home.”
Chris Curran, his brother, had fighting words for some of those other sports: “It’s a great game. And I think it’s a little more exciting than football,” said Chris Curran, 52, of Lincoln Park.
He said he has high hopes the game will become more popular in America.
New Zealand hasn’t played on U.S. soil since 1980. And to rugby fans, win or lose, the game means something.
“New Zealand is the No. 1 team. This is the Super Bowl champions going overseas,” Chris Curran said. “It’s very big.”
Sonya Caffrey, originally from Ireland, wore an Irish rugby jersey, along with her 1-year-old son Conor. She follows rugby pretty closely and was happy to have an opportunity to watch the game with others in Chicago.
“They sometimes play rugby games in pubs in Chicago, but the matches are so early. It’s nice to have something to watch during the day,” Caffrey, 41, of Lincoln Park said.
To Amy Goodson, a recent rugby convert, the sport’s sense of camaraderie attracted her to the game.
“The home team sponsors a gathering after the game where they all come together and drink and eat and kind of just congregate. And whether they win or lose, it doesn’t matter. They all come together and they play nice for a couple of hours,” Goodson, of River North said. “That’s a cool social aspect about the game. The rugby team is more a family than any other sport.”