All Blacks tread hallowed ground
SPORTS TALK by Joseph Romanos
The All Blacks have played at many famous sports venues, but few with as much history as Soldier Field, Chicago, where they demolished the United States Eagles 74-6 on Sunday morning.
They’ve played at celebrated football grounds like Stamford Bridge, Hampden Park, Wembley and Old Trafford, and cricket venues like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground, the Gabba and the Waca.
They’ve played at athletics stadiums Crystal Palace and Iffley Road (well, they played on the field next to where Roger Bannister ran the first sub-fourminute mile) and at Olympic venues in Melbourne, Sydney, Paris (Colombes Stadium), London and Tokyo.
In 1980, they played at San Diego Stadium, home of the Chargers NFL team. They’ve played at Croke Park, Dublin, home of the Gaelic Games.
Graham Mourie’s second-string All Blacks played at some of South America’s major football grounds in 1976.
Our rugby champions have appeared at Golden Gate Stadium, Stanford University and the University of California in Berkeley.
In 1963, they even played at Hove Greyhound Stadium.
Even with all that, it was a treat to play at Soldier Field. Incidentally, although rugby is a minnow sport in the United States, the ground sold out, a tribute to the All Blacks’ global reputation.
Soldier Field was the site of one of the great sports events, the 1927 rematch between heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the man he’d beaten for the title, the charismatic Jack Dempsey.
Interest in their return bout was colossal and the fight attracted 104,943 fans. Live gate receipts of $2.6 million made it history’s first $1m and $2m fight.
The bout became known as ‘‘ the battle of the long count’’. Tunney, the better mover, was winning easily, but got caught on the ropes and knocked down in the seventh round.
A new rule required the boxer delivering the knockdown to retreat to a neutral corner.
Dempsey would not do that and referee Dave Barry took several seconds to induce him to do so.
Tunney, initially groggy, regained his senses and rose on the referee’s belated count of nine. It was estimated he was down for 13 seconds, though he could clearly have risen earlier.
Tunney recovered to win the fight comfortably, but controversy raged afterwards.
Soldier Field, named in honour of Americans who fought in World War I, has hosted all manner of sports events, including men’s and women’s Football World Cups, Nascar and hot-rod motor racing, the first Special Olympics in 1968, and an NHL hockey match last year. It has been the home of 12 football teams, the first Notre Dame. NFL team the Chicago Bears are the current tenants.
Douglas McArthur drew 50,000 people when he spoke there in 1951, Martin Luther King led a rally there in 1966, and President Obama hosted a Nato summit there in 2012.
Famous musicians, from the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney to Madonna, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and Taylor Swift have played at Soldier Field. So the ground packs quite a history.
It was appropriate the All Blacks honoured it with such a commanding performance the other day, and for Americans to see the magic of Sonny Bill Williams, Ryan Crotty, Kieran Read and the comeback kid, Daniel Carter.
Historic: Israel Dagg takes a photo for a fan after the match at Soldier Field.