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Herald on Sunday editorial: All Blacks on a historic stage

New Zealand Maori All Blacks perform the haka against the USA Eagles. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand Maori All Blacks perform the haka against the USA Eagles. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Soldier Field, Chicago, where the All Blacks play this morning, is a place where much has happened besides rugby. Far be it for us to suggest the All Blacks will have the luxury of taking their mind off the game for a moment against Ireland, but should they get the chance, there is a lot of American history around them.

It was at Soldier Field in 1927 that Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney fought a rematch for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. It became known as "the long count fight". Dempsey, the former champion, had been dethroned by Tunney the year before. The rematch was under a new rule that required a boxer to retire to a neutral corner when his opponent went down.

When he knocked Tunney down in round 7, Dempsey forgot the rule, stood over him and some reckoned Tunney had been down for eight seconds before the referee could start the count. It took another nine seconds for Tunney to get up, fight on and win on points. It was Dempsey's last fight. Soldier Field must have been howling with argument that night.

The grand old stadium with its doric columns at each entrance has seen pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart, and President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to 150,000 people there in his last re-election campaign. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King held a rally attended by 75,000. Ten years ago it was the venue for the opening ceremony of the Gay Games and four years ago President Barrack Obama hosted a Nato summit there.

The All Blacks are playing there for the second time having given Soldier Field its first international rugby match two years ago. It is of course the home ground of Chicago Bears in American football's NFL and it held a soccer World Cup match in 1994. Ireland is making it home ground for this morning's match and there are, no doubt, more Irish than Kiwis in Chicago. But the All Blacks are fast making in their US outpost too.

Rugby is struggling to lift its US presence above the foothold in a few regions that it has held for a long time now. Precious few Chicagoans might know the quality of the rugby they could see this morning.

Avid sports fans among them will have read of the current All Black's record, ranking them among the most successful teams of all time in any sport. But they need to see them in action to know they are worthy of this fine stage they are playing on.

- Herald on Sunday

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