Growing up I was obsessed with sports – football, baseball, basketball, primarily. When I was a kid and it came time for my birthday, I always wanted to go to a sporting event instead of having a birthday party. For my 10th birthday, my Uncle Larry took me to a UCLA football home game and bought me the most amazing sweatshirt. It came down to my knees and the arms had to be rolled up almost ten times, but I lived in that sweatshirt. Fun fact: I still own it today. It’s stained, has holes in it, and god forbid I ever wear it out in public, but I am never getting rid of that sweatshirt. And when I got to college, I made sure that I didn’t have any classes on Monday night so I could devote my thoughts to Monday Night Football. When I met Alan’s parents for the first time, his dad remarked that I knew an awful lot about football, which was true. But then something happened along the way – I just stopped caring about who was playing or what place the teams finished in. I’m sure the fact that Alan couldn’t have cared less had a lot to do with it as well, but over time I went from knowing who all of the major players were to knowing nothing about the teams. Now, I’ll watch the Super Bowl if we are invited to a party, but I won’t go out of my way to watch any game at home. When LeBron James went back to the Cavs, we watched his home opener with my brother-in-law while visiting Cleveland. And when the Cavs played the Golden State Warriors for the championship, we watched the last 30 minutes or so of the final game. The other thing that’s happened over time is that I have grown to pretty much loathe famous athletes. Between how much money they’re paid and their behavior off the court, I don’t have an ounce of respect for most of them. Football players seem to be the absolute worst sorts of humanity and I cannot stomach some of their shenanigans.
Basically, I tell you all of this so you know that as an adult, sports are the furthest thing from my mind even though they once occupied a rather large chunk of my brain.
When we got to Dublin and realized that the Rugby World Cup was on, we figured we’d go to the pub to watch the Ireland games since it seemed like a good way to get out of our hotel room and to experience some of the local culture. And hey, it’s going to the pub. Worse case scenario was that I got to drink a Guinness. This wasn’t our first brush with watching rugby, so at least I knew I wouldn’t hate it. (Back in 2009 when we first visited Ireland we hung out at a pub in Kinsale waiting for the music to start and they had rugby playing so we watched some then and enjoyed ourselves.) The first game we watched was Ireland v Italy and I found myself – surprisingly – really enjoying the pace of the game and the lack of drama. As we watched Alan and I asked each other if we understood what had just happened, and about 99% of the time the answer was no, but I was curious to know more.
The following Sunday we’d already moved into our new house and wanting to experience the game locally, we walked down the street to a pub not far from our home. It was packed! We found two stools to park our asses on and we watched as Ireland succumbed to injury after injury in the match against France. By this point, we’d both done *some* reading up on the sport and so we had a better idea of what was happening and why, but we were still mostly oblivious to the finer points of play. As players dropped and the team looked to be in peril, I found myself honestly hoping they’d be able to pull off what looked to be a miracle. When the replacement team came in and played well, I cheered right along with the rest of the pub, screaming when a try was about to happen and when kicks were scored. There was something about the energy in the room that was infectious and even if I wanted to be stoic about it, I’m not sure that I could have. Much like with the Olympics, I also really loved that these were players representing their country, and not necessarily a multi-million dollar paycheck. I know there are endorsement deals and merchandising, of course, but this seemed somehow more about the love of the sport than about wanting to be rich. I mean, you’d gotta really love the game to want to put yourself through what those guys do, sans protective gear. Over the course of that match against Ireland, something funny happened – I fell in love with the sport too. Now mind you, I *still* have no idea what most of the calls are or why, but I found myself wanting to learn. When Ireland ended up winning and we saw 26-year-old replacement player Ian Madigan walk off the field in tears of joy, my cold black heart melted.
Over the course of the week I read up on the sport and when Sunday came around and we walked down to the pub – early this time, so we could get a seat – I was excited as all get out. As you all know by now, the game was a heartbreaker. While it looked like Ireland had a chance to even the score, the Argentinians were just too dominant. Even someone who knows basically nothing about the finer points of play could see that the Irish team was outmanned on the field. Argentina was faster, had better ball handling, and looked to be in more control of their game. When Ian Madigan missed a kick that would have tied the score, I felt so bad for him. You could see the weight of that mistake on his shoulders. (And man, you should read the post-game interviews. He basically blames himself for the loss – there is no ego with most of these guys that I can see.)
So, Ireland was out of the World Cup, but I still wanted more. On Thursday I was reading some of the local league’s message boards trying to educate myself on the plays when I realized there was a game, in Dublin, on Friday night and tickets were still available. I logged in to see how much they cost and was kind of surprised by how expensive they were, but in the grand scheme of things, it was no worse than us going out to dinner and getting a bottle of wine with our meal. I asked Alan if he’d be interested in going, and we were set.
Leading up to the match I tweeted that this would be our first live game since moving to Dublin and the handle for Leinster Rugby not only favorited and retweeted my tweet, but they acknowledged it as well. And at halftime, they announced our first visit over the loud speaker. So cool! Our seats were terrific, albeit some of the play was blocked by pillars from the stands, but we had an excellent view of all of the action. Overall, the stadium itself isn’t huge so I don’t know that there’d be a bad seat in the house. While some of the Leinster club members were part of the World Cup team it didn’t look like any of them were back in town yet so none of them were on the squad. Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure how that even works, but I was raring to go and cheered loud and long for the men on the field even though I have absolutely no idea who they are or whether or not they’re even good. In the end, Leinster won by a few points and it was just such a freaking fantastic night. As we walked out I said to Alan, “we’re definitely coming back to another game.”
And we will. In fact, we’re looking at getting season tickets for next year. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say, I’m in love with rugby.