All Blacks forced to take a back seat to Chicago’s real passions

It is a good job for the promoters of Saturday’s dust-up between Ireland and the All Blacks that it is attracting a sell-out crowd of ex-pats to Soldier Field. If the people behind this Test match had been hoping to broaden the appeal of rugby to an American audience here in Chicago, their timing could not have been worse.
All Blacks forced to take a back seat to Chicago’s real passions

America’s mid-western powerhouse city is currently in the midst of a perfect sporting storm and international rugby, even on their own doorstep, is about as far from the minds of Chicagoans as the result of the 3:20 at Chepstow.

With five major league franchises in the metropolis, four of whom are currently in action, squeezing rugby onto the domestic agenda, even when the world champion New Zealanders are involved, is a tall order.

And when one of those franchises is the Cubs chasing the end of a baseball curse stretching back to 1908, the task is nigh on impossible.

It’s even pushing the city’s other big guns into the shade for a while.

Gridiron favorites the Bears won only their second game of this NFL season when they defeated NFC North division leaders Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on Monday night while ice hockey’s Blackhawks, who won the NHL’s Stanley Cup in 2015 and are going well at the start of the 2016-17 season, beat Calgary 5-1 on home ice to go second in their conference on Tuesday.

The majority of Ireland’s rugby squad spent yesterday morning sharpening up their basketball skills as they shot some some hoops at the Bulls training facility next door to the United Center where tomorrow night the Blackhawks’ ice will be replaced by hardwood as the storied Bulls welcome the New York Knicks, including recent defector and former Chicago franchise leader Derrick Rose, to the court once graced by Michael Jordan. Yet all of this sporting excellence has been reduced to a sideshow by the exploits of Chicago’s beloved Cubs, who brought the city to a standstill on Tuesday night as they defied the odds in Cleveland to level the World Series at 3-3 with a 9-2 victory over the Indians.

Such is the fervour for the Cubs’ pursuit of history you could be forgiven for thinking they were the only baseball show in town. Blue Ws on white flags, denoting another win for the National League championship winners, are everywhere: in store windows, on flags and even on skyscrapers, while Cubs merchandise is adorning the bodies of citizens all across the city, even the ones who support their Chicago rivals the White Sox.

In well-known sports pub Timothy O’Tooles on Tuesday, just off Michigan Avenue, bar tender Johnny, a Sox fan, was suffering silently in a Cubs t-shirt bearing the number 17 of Kris Bryant as the slugger himself was setting the touchpaper to a remarkable victory with a towering first-inning home run. And as his team-mates piled on the runs to make it a second must-win victory in three days having gone 3-1 down in the best-of-seven series, the volume increased in the basement bar as Cubs fans went wild. High fives and hugs were exchanged and joy was unconfined.

Some sour grapes aside, most people in Chicago are enjoying the unexpected boost the Cubs and baseball are bringing to the city. Aside from the merchandise sales, the World Series run is extending the peak summer trade into Fall for bars and restaurants with long lines outside the doors of such city centre establishments and around the Cubs’ venerable old stadium Wrigley Field.

When Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series were staged there last week, hotel rooms were at a premium and local hosts on home-sharing platform Airbnb made a fortune as occupancy levels matched the summer highs when the Lollapalooza music festival comes to town. A report in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune reported earnings up 150% on the same week 12 months ago with Airbnb hosts raking in $2.6 million over the weekend.

Fortunately for the thousands of Ireland and All Blacks supporters set to descend on the Windy City this weekend, Game 7, the World Series decider, was last night and in Cleveland. Yet if the Cubs were victorious and the World Series trophy is set to return to Chicago, rugby may still struggle to grab any attention because the homecoming party will have only just begun.

With five major league franchises in the metropolis, squeezing rugby onto the domestic agenda, even when world champion New Zealanders are involved, is a tall order

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