"Is this your first time at a Sevens event?" I was asked repeatedly in the VIP tent (that's how we roll here). It seemed like the whole rugby world knew how awesome a Sevens tournament was and hoped I would see the light and become a convert. Only I didn't need converting. I've been a rugby fan for years and though I'd never been to a Sevens tourney like this, I didn't need anyone telling me how awesome it was. It only takes one game to know the excitement and potential of rugby sevens. A lot of really smart people think If rugby is going to succeed in America, it will be through this gate - sevens instead of fifteens. After this weekend I might be in that camp not because of the game, but because of the fans.
Think of it like this...in Mixed Martial Arts you have two types of fans - Americans and everyone else. Americans boo when a fight goes to the ground. They get bored and restless because they want to see a knockout. It's not that they don't understand jiu jitsu, they just want nonstop excitement whereas the rest of the world quietly watches a ground fight because they find it more interesting than striking on the feet. Rugby is the same way. Fifteens are deliberate and plodding while Sevens are fast-paced with lots of scoring and are frequently undecided until after the final whistle blows. If Americans are going to get behind rugby, sevens may be the key to making it happen.
Many things were awesome about this weekend, but here are the parts that stick out:
We first heard of Tiger Rugby a few months ago on facebook and instantly liked them for several reasons-they're an all-star lot of players from everywhere and every age, they win, they're good people, they win, they play for a great charity (Tackling Cancer), and they win. Supporting them was a huge pleasure for us because they're just plain-old good people. Their coaches, James Walker and Paul Holmes, are the kind of guys we knew in the Army who understand what it means to have your back, so we agreed to have theirs. American Sin Bin's first prototype jerseys will be tested out by Tiger Rugby players and feedback gathered so we can make the best jerseys in the world.
The Tigers tore through their competition and were sitting at 2-0-1 on day 2 when they got matched up against the number 1 seed in the Elite Sevens division, Spain. Few expected these former Eagles and "older" gentlemen (Andre Snyman is 37-ancient for a rugger) to win, but no one told them that. When the final horn sounded, they'd shocked everyone and defeated a Spanish team that the Eagles had never even beaten. When it was all done, the TIgers took second in the Elite Sevens division, losing the final game to a very tough team from England (who wore pink...pink I say).
We liked the guys enough that we threw a party for the Tigers, renting out part of The Foundation Room on the roof of the Mandalay Bay for an epic shindig that will go down in team history. According to the host, we all drank two times more than the next largest group in recent history. Sweet. We've never met a more appreciative lot, either. They are all great guys and have a healthy command of the term "shark attack!" Check them out on facebook here
We ran into a lot of fans at the event, but none more important than Dan Kissik. Dan coaches a youth club in Iowa and said something that rang true with us. "My kids can't wear a typical rugby shirt to school or they get kicked out because everything has hooker jokes or odd-shaped ball jokes. It's either too vulgar or mature for them." Great point, and one that you could see all over the pitches. Every apparel company seems to take the same angle on rugby t-shirts, so we'll do our best to keep doing positive and powerful messages that everyone can wear and give rugby a better image than "1 Hooker, 15 Positions, and 80 Minutes. Go."
The Tackle Challenge
On the first day of the event I posted on facebook - "Find the guy with an orange backpack and an American Sin Bin shirt. Tackle him and get a free shirt." Well, someone did and I instantly regretted it. I never thought a USA Eagle would read that challenge and find me first thing in the morning. Jamie Burke may be a chick, but she planted me on my ass and showed no mercy in doing it. Next time she's mine...as long as she's turned the other way and I have my ninja suit on.
Oh Yeah...The Rugby
How can you watch the final game of the tournament and not love USA Sevens? Samoa's win over the juggernaut All Blacks after time had expired was truly legendary. It's a Rocky story on the pitch. Apollo Creed was the All Blacks pitted against the likable Rocky Balboa in the Samoans. It had everything you want for an exceptional story of courage against the odds personified in sports. Americans love that and if rugby is going to gain traction here in the USA, it will be through events like this with endings like that.