All Blacks tread hal­lowed ground

SPORTS TALK by Joseph Romanos

Auckland City Harbour News - - SPORT -

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.

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