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Monday, November 28, 2011

MCG and MSG All in One Year....

There is an old joke in the United States about a guy who went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.

This past weekend, I had a chance to put another check mark on my Bucket List when I had a chance to catch an Ice Hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  MSG is an arena that has a great deal of history and has had to be remodeled and refurbished over the years, just like the MCG in Melbourne, Australia.  The big difference is that I don't think there has been any rugby played at the MSG, and I don't think any Ice Hockey matches have been played at the MCG.

The game I saw on Saturday afternoon was between the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers. There is a two hour drive separating these east coast cities. Regardless of the sport, these two cities really don't like each other. I had my first hint when I went to a bar across the street from the Garden, which had been taken over by Philly fans. When I asked a group of them to pose for a shot, they were happy to oblige....
Getting Phlipped off by Philly fans.
Maybe it was because I was wearing a Ranger t-shirt...

The guy on the left was one of the few Ranger fans on the upper deck of this bar on an unseasonably warm (61 degrees, about 20 degrees C) and sunny day in New York City. He actually was yelling down at passers by that he would buy a beer for any more Ranger fans that would join him. (Which I enjoyed immensely) There were insults, obscenities and cat calls-and that was just from the female Flyer fans.

I had just settled into my seats at the MSG when they sang the National Anthem, the puck was dropped, and four seconds into the game, a fight broke out. Later in the first period, another fight, which I put on the top of this posting.

It's strange to people who are used to players getting red carded for fighting to find out that in professional ice hockey, fights ARE penalized (a 5 minute penalty), but the players are not always ejected. (That's usually reserved for a player leaving the bench or the 3rd man in a fight) Ice hockey traditionalists cry foul any time there is talk about getting rid of fighting-truth be told, the fans love it.

The thing  I would say about professional ice hockey is that you have to see it live. Seeing it on TV just does not do justice to the speed and physicality of the game. I would tell any rugby fan visiting the US or Canada to try to take in an NHL game-it's a lot more fun than watching on TV, and if you can get seats for a rivalry game like the Rangers-Flyers, it really makes it a lot more fun.
The game just ended, the Rangers won, 2-0

Now that I have been to the MCG and MSG, I have got to make it to Twickenham and to the new Wembley.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Direction for USA Rugby...but where ?

Well, along with John Kirwan of Japan, Nick Mallett of Italy, Martin Johnson of England, you can add Eddie O'Sullivan as a World Cup coach who has decided to move on to greener pastures.

Being an American fan of the oval ball can be an exercise in frustration. We have the athletes in this country, but it takes time to develop a rugby culture.

I guess in retrospect, USA rugby was lucky to get an experienced top-fight coach like Eddie O'Sullivan. I think that on the balance, the Irishman did a good job as USA manager. I felt that overall, the USA Eagles played better in New Zealand 2011 than they did in France 4 years ago.  They beat Russia, which was to be expected, but the Eagles showed a great deal of heart against a very good Irish squad in an emotional match on 9/11. I was not able to see that game in New Plymouth, but I did see the Eagles play Australia in Wellington and Italy in Nelson.

I thought that O'Sullivan was pragmatic by emptying his bench and going with the young players against the Wallabies. He knew that the game was going to be a blow out-no sense in possibly injuring his best players for their last match against Italy. The young Americans showed some very bright play in the first half against the formidable Australians.  True they got blown out in the second half, but I could not fault the effort. Against the Italians, the US had a rough day at the office in the scrum-but to be fair, it's not the first time the Italians formidable front row had made life difficult for a team. They have done it against even the All Blacks in international play.

So the question for USA Rugby is, who will replace Eddie O'Sullivan? I would love to see USA Rugby offer a position to John Kirwan, who recently stepped down as the Japanese Head Coach. I just don't think that USA Rugby has the funds to go after a really top flight coach like a John Kirwan or Nick Mallet. (Hell, if he decided against taking the England position,  what chance to we have?)
I would love to see John Kirwan get a shot at the job-if he was interested. Japan, in my opinion, was one of the most improved nations in the past 4 years. I thought they played some great rugby in New Zealand. I just don't think USA Rugby has the funds to get a coach of his caliber.

As an American fan, I am very intrigued by who will be picked to replace Eddie O'Sullivan as USA coach-but given the vacancies at more top tier nations like England and Italy, it will be interesting to see who USA Rugby will pick to lead the Eagles for the Rugby World Cup in England, 2015.

Friday, November 11, 2011


On this 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of this not-so-brand-new century, I share with you a sobering image that I took when I went to France for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.  It's the tombstone of an American Soldier who died and was buried near Verdun, France. In a place where reminders of WWI and death are all over, what struck me about this particular tombstone was that this soldier died on the 10th of November, 1918, the day before the armistice was signed. This tombstone of this soldier from Pennsylvania still sticks out at me, 4 years later.

Today, I try to remember those whose lives were changed because of war, and those who never came home. For me, it's easy because I work as a nurse in the VA Medical system. The one thing with travel, is that if you look carefully, you can appreciate the sacrifice so many other people have made, too. I found this while I was in Nelson, New Zealand-a small country that lost an inordinate amount of people in "the Great War", either on the Western Front in France and Belgium, or in Turkey, during the carnage that was Gallipoli.
On this 11/11/11, I salute those who served.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

RIP Joe Frazier

As a Kid, I really did not know about rugby. I followed Baseball, American football and Boxing. It's hard to believe now but back in the late 60's and through the 70's, Boxing was a huge sport in the US. I admired the courage of boxers and their skill.

When I was 10 years old and in fourth grade, boxing fans were treated to undefeated fighters going for the heavyweight title. Muhammad Ali had been the undefeated champ before he was stripped of his title as a fallout from refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. With Ali in exile, the power brokers of boxing held a sort of tournament, which was eventually won by Joe Frazier.

Unlike the photogenic, quotable Ali, Joe Frazier never seemed to have things easy- in life and in the ring. Even as an amateur, he was runner up to Buster Mathis for a spot on the 1964 Olympic Boxing Team. When Mathis got injured, Frazier shocked everybody by winning a Gold Medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Unlike Ali, Frazier bore in, willing to take incredible punishment in the process. Interestingly enough, Frazier never should have been allowed to box professionally, as he was effectively blind in one eye. What he would do during fight physicals was when he was asked to read the eye chart, he would read the chart with his good eye, but then when they asked him to use the other eye, Frazier would use the opposite hand to cover the same eye. Nobody ever caught on to it. Because he was fighting with one eye, Frazier constantly moved to his left. His left hook was simply a thing of beauty. I added tape from the 15th round from "The Fight of the Century", as Ali-Frazier I was called at the time. At around 30 seconds into the clip, Frazier floors Ali with a wicked left hook. This was an epic fight with both fighters needing to get medical treatment after all was said and done.

What was sad and unfair were the very personal insults Ali would call Frazier: Ugly, a gorilla, and most hateful of all, an "Uncle Tom", proclaiming himself as the hope for African Americans, whereas Frazier was the fighter that catered to the white establishment. It was a grossly unfair accusation on a very proud man. Frazier was nobody's fool. What made Ali's trash talk even more vile was the fact that when Ali was in exile and unable to make a living boxing, Frazier had actually given money to Ali. There was a very, very real hatred by Frazier over the years against Ali.

That hatred was on full view on a very steamy night in Manilla in October of 1975, Ali-Frazier III was the closest thing that I have ever seen to Mortal Combat. The visceral level of violence in this fight was both compelling and terrible. It was a play in 3 acts, where Ali toyed with Frazier for the first rounds, in the middle rounds, Frazier inflicted horrific punishment to Ali. In the end, Frazier was essentially fighting blind. Even in his fatigued and debilitated state, Ali was teeing off on Frazier's head. Eddie Futch, Frazier's longtime trainer, refused to send his fighter out for the 14th round. Ali barely had enough strength to lift his hand in triumph before collapsing in the ring.

You can make a pretty good argument that neither fighter was ever the same again after the mauling they inflicted upon each other. Both suffered neurological effects that afflicted them after they retired. Frazier, ever gracious with fans, was always somewhat bitter that Ali got more of the headlines and the love from sports fans. When he was diagnosed with the liver cancer that would kill him, Smokin' Joe was able to soften his stance towards his foe somewhat.

In this day and age, it's hard to believe that a man at 205 pounds could be a heavyweight champ. They say that you cannot measure heart in an athlete. Joe Frazier may not have had the speed, size or reach of other boxers-but his huge heart and formidable left hook had him at the top of the boxing world during a period in time where boxing was front page news in the US.

RIP Smokin' Joe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delaware Rugby Fundraiser, Johnny and New York City

I have been here in Delaware since the 11th of October. I am working as a travel nurse at the VA Medical Center in Wilmington until early January.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me with this sport is that if you go to any good sized city, you can find a rugby club and affiliated community.  My work schedule prevented me from getting a chance to see the Wilmington RFC play, but I had a chance to meet some of their players and old boys at their hangout in Wilmington( )

My wife and I got word about a rugby fundraiser that the Delaware Rugby Union was putting on in Newark-home to the University of Delaware. My wife and I had a great time

While here in Delaware, we had a chance to catch up with Johan, better known as Johnnie. My son Ian's South-African born, rugby playing room-mate during Ian's first year at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Johnnie actually played for the USA at the Under 19 World Cup. He still has been keeping in great shape-a good thing, because he is in Army Basic Training before he goes to Officers Candidate's School. I am glad that he had a chance to drive down to Delaware and see us before he took off for Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Just a really nice young man. He'll make a great Army Officer.
Delaware is the second smallest US State, after Rhode Island. It's located almost exactly half-way between New York City and Washington DC.(About two hours either way) An hour from Baltimore, about 40 minutes from Philadelphia, and an hour and a half from the South Jersey Shore or the Southern Delaware shore. My daughter Rachel came out for a visit, as she had never been to the East Coast before. It was great to see her. My daughter is a huge fan of the show, "Cake Boss", set at Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. What we decided to do, was to drive to Hoboken, New Jersey-just across the river from Manhattan-then go to New York.

Carlo's Bakery did not disappoint. It was worth the drive through a rare October snowstorm on the Jersey Turnpike. They had the best Cannoli's and Lobster Tails that I had ever had. Rachel was in 7th heaven.
Hoboken, New Jersey is known as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, but if you are looking to get a good picture of the Manhattan Skyline,  Hoboken is a great place to start your trip to NYC.(You can take the Path subway train from the World Trade Center Station to get to Hoboken) I had no desire to drive or find parking in Manhattan. Leaving the car in Hoboken at a parking garage and then taking the PATH Subway to Manhattan was a lot less stressful.

In spite of the bad weather on Saturday, we made the most of our brief time in New York City: We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Times Square, had dinner in Chinatown and toured the area around the 9/11 site, and were two blocks away from the people protesting Wall Street greed.

Overall though, it was a good trip to New York City.