In the aftermath of the All Blacks World Cup victory, I've been left to ponder three tricky questions. Are the All Blacks now the world's greatest sporting 'franchise'? Is this the greatest All Black side? How long does it take before your liver finally processes a bathtub's worth of over-priced Mexican beer?
I'm still waiting on the answer for the final part of this perplexing trilogy to reveal itself and it feels like we debate the second question every other year, so let's just focus on the biggest picture.
The obvious truth is you can't come up with a metric that can accurately place teams on a Greatness Scale. There are too many variables and too many opinions. But, and this is a big BUT, it's harmless fun to try.
Rugby can't compare to football and basketball in terms of global reach, and even in the countries where it is played, only in New Zealand and probably Wales, does it sit at No 1.
So we accept that football's hold on the sporting conscious, certainly in terms of team sports, is enormous - it's the lion and the mouse.
But it doesn't alter the central premise: is there a single football team that wears so comfortably the cloak of greatness as the All Blacks?
In 2009, the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, an independent body whose authority is recognised by Fifa, announced the greatest clubs of each continent. Real Madrid were announced as the best club in Europe and, given the status of those competitions and financial resources, by extension the world.
Could you compare Real to the All Blacks? Possibly. They have won 32 league titles, 19 Spanish cups and 10 European Cups, a stunning portfolio of success, even if they went from 1966 to 1998 without winning the latter. Certainly the competition for that title is more comprehensive than anything the All Blacks will face, but again it is impossible to compare accurately club and international competitions.
More simple to compare the All Blacks to, say, Brazil, who with five titles lead the way in Fifa World Cups and, importantly, held a mystique that went beyond mere wins and losses. Indisputably, football World Cups are more difficult to win; inarguably, football's global reach and scale dwarfs rugby's; incontrovertibly, Brazil have sold more replica shirts in their long history than the All Blacks.
But their mystique is slipping as the All Blacks remains strong. Brazil might have been the greatest side in the world's greatest sport, but likewise the All Blacks have spent 110 years fashioning a record that elevates them above their sport.
It's true, the All Blacks cut-through in the United States, where success is measured in $ signs and ESPN screentime as much as it is in titles, remains weak, but it is growing.
The All Blacks recently filled 60,000-seat Soldier Field, Chicago; a year later the ground was less than half full to watch the Wallabies. They even got a shout-out on the hugely popular Dan Patrick radio show this week, alongside other great teams like the, erm, Wisconsin Badgers.
Americans like the fact that the All Blacks win a lot. They even invented a word, winningest, for such occasions. And when it comes to winningest, the All Blacks with their 77 per cent historic success rate better anything they can throw at the world.
The great American sporting franchise competitions are all bound, some more than others, to regulatory mechanisms with the aim of achieving parity.
In American football, even the best teams, like the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, have endured long periods of futility.
The gold standard NBA teams, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, like any other teams nowadays, rise and fall on the strength of their drafting.
The New York Yankees, unquestionably the most dominant American sporting franchise, have historically won just 57 per cent of their games.
The Montreal Canadiens, winners of 24 Stanley Cups, have not been in a final since 1993.
Perhaps the team that most closely matches the All Blacks international mastery is the USA men's national basketball team, the self-styled Dream Team. But even then this is a relatively modern phenomenon.
It wasn't until the 1992 Olympics that NBA professionals first played for the US, and it is not as if there is regular international competition involving America's best talent.
Seriously, we've barely scratched the surface here. You could make cases for the Australian cricketers, the Diamonds, the US national women's football side. Heck, the Harlem Globetrotters merged business with a (manufactured) winning record the All Blacks can only dream about.
As you can probably judge, I've reached the going-around-in-circles part of an argument.
I could switch to anecdotal, and tell you about the time when my future wife and I were trying ascertain room availability at a Sarajevo guesthouse but the only words of English garrulous owner Mustafa knew were "All Blacks - Jonah Lomu - boom-boom-boom". I could, but someone will rightfully point out that names like Maradona and Pele and Jan Molby resonate far louder and wider.
No, best we just knock the top of a refreshing drink - make mine a soda water, thanks - and celebrate the fact that the All Blacks matter a lot to many New Zealanders... and they wear that responsibility well.
GIVE 'EM A TASTE OF KIWI...
In this week how can it be anything other than our national cricketing treasure, Sir Richard Hadlee, discussing his favourite subject.
Next week's column will be coming to you live from Copacabana Beach. Stay tuned.
I'm selling... Knighthoods
Is there any bigger conversation killer than speculating as to whether a sportsman who's done well at sport should get the tap on the shoulder from a ceremonial sword? There's something just a little bit icky about the way the leader of this gummint slobbers over these All Blacks.
Bad news last week for lovers of quality longform sports writing with ESPN's decision to discontinue its Grantland website. You can still access the archives however, and this piece on the World Lumberjack Championships, which features a New Zealander, is well worth a squizz.
MY LAST $10
Last week: Australia with an +11.5 points start at $1.45. Well, the awesome Ben-Smith-Beauden Barrett combination put paid to that near certainty of a bet.
This week: NZ batting, first method of dismissal, caught bowler/fielder at $1.90. This came to me in a vision, Martin Guptill pushing too hard at Mitchell Starc and getting caught at second slip.
Total spent: $190 Total collected: $156.60
Here's a letter with a reader who agrees with my premise that creeping ahead of the offside line is rugby's greatest crime.
I agree. It was interesting to read the posted comments (surprisingly negative I thought) but it really is about ensuring the offside is enforced such that the attacking team doesn't always face 13 defenders lined up across the field. At the top level it is almost easier to defend than attack - especially in wet conditions.
I very much like the idea of putting the captain in the bin. The touch judges could call the offside if the technology doesn't work or is too expensive (being a more important job than the other things they do).
A couple of more radical ideas:
- We could also make the field five meters wider (as compensation to the fewer forwards in rucks).
- We could also play the last 20 minutes with 14 a side or literally make it a 14-per-side game.
I always enjoy radical thinking, though I'm not sure every ground would have the capacity to go five metres wider.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondence may be edited for errors and abridged.