BRENDAN O'BRIEN: American plates piled high with local delicacies

Not a puck did we see of Saturday’s All-Ireland hurling final replay.

The Ryder Cup passed us by — a few glimpsed shots on Saturday aside — and the usual melee of domestic rugby and soccer fixtures never passed our radar.

We would like to say that the last week in the USA was spent perusing artefacts in museums or attending events of a cultural nature. Suffice to say the all-too-brief trip to see friends in Chicago and Wisconsin was dominated by visits to ballparks and stadiums. Sad? Yes. Yes, it is, but we are what we are.

If nothing else, it made for a fascinating little social experiment: one conducted at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Soldier Field where the Cubs won and the Bears lost (few would have predicted that!) and at Camp Randall in Madison where the student athletes of the Wisconsin Badgers entertained 80,000 people.

Here’s some thoughts on it all:

It’s not really about the sport

We’ve done the math. Take two games of football and an evening’s baseball. Add in the time spent drinking, eating and tailgating before and after and the sum total of hours spent in and around stadia and ballparks amounted to roughly 28.

The amount of time spent actually talking about sport? Maybe an hour. Tops. Hot dogs, the weather, where to eat dinner, the usual male slagging: they all outranked the actual games themselves in terms of attention paid to them. And this was time spent in the company of self-declared sports nuts.

Teams are like buses…

We all know what it is to declare loyalty to more than one team. Who doesn’t know at least one guy who supports a county in hurling, another in football, an English Premier League side and maybe one of the rugby provinces too? In America, they take it a step further. Football? Sure. You have your pro team and your college team. Add in baseball, basketball and ice hockey and you literally have a team for all seasons and one where you are almost guaranteed some form of success.

Ryder Cup? What Ryder Cup?

Europe’s onward march. The USA’s continuing struggles. Big Phil’s dissing of Tom Watson. None of it created anything more than a ripple in the life of the average American sports fan. ESPN’s Sportcentre gave tonnes of time to individual college football games yet barely mentioned the happenings at Gleneagles.

All in all, the golf was mentioned just once in the course of an entire week on our travels by anyone with an American accent and that conversation consisted of just three simple words: “Europe again, huh?”

College football is even bigger than you think

We’ve all heard how big the college game is and probably the numbers about the millions of dollars involved and the ridiculous salaries the head coaches can demand as well, but the scale only really hits you when you are in its midst.

Madison is a beautiful university town of about 240,000 people and it was literally painted red last Saturday as the Wisconsin Badgers hosted the University of South Florida at Camp Randall Stadium.

From infants to grannies, the entire state was represented before, during and after and the Badgers store on State Street must be bigger than Manchester United’s megastore at Old Trafford. Typical conversation: “I don’t like football but…”

Skip breakfast. And lunch

This one goes without saying but it’s worth repeating. The amount of food and drink consumed at your average American stadium is simply astonishing. Someone worked out recently that Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, sold over one million hot dogs alone in the season before last. What the number would be if the Cubs didn’t suck and attendances picked up is another thing.

Here’s a basic list of the treats digested by this column: beer (lots of); monkey nuts (they just call them peanuts); cheese curds (hat tip to Wisconsin there); bratwurst (thumbs up); Polish sausage (not bad at all); generic hot dogs (meh!); fries (who doesn’t like fries?); nachos with hot cheese (sweet divine) and litres of cola (because, you know).

Soccer still has some way to go

Flying in to O’Hare Airport last week with downtown Chicago on our left-hand side, we were treated to a long look at the city’s northern suburbs and what struck most, aside from the sheer size of the place, was the number of soccer pitches visible.

Baseball diamonds were less represented while gridiron didn’t even map. Travels at ground level for the next week reflected that first impression, but soccer’s place in the sporting firmament dissipates further up the chain.

Chicago’s Sports Museum on Michigan Avenue is a shrine to a city’s love affair but the only nod to the beautiful game seems to be a single Chicago Fire jersey installed at the back end of the top floor. As for TV? Ads for Fifa 15 aside? Nada.

Bottom line: if it isn’t American and it isn’t happening in their own back yard they just ain’t interested.

Same as it ever was.

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* Twitter: @Rackob


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