Chicago Bulls at the Madhouse on Madison, the All Blacks playing at Soldier field (home of the Chicago Bears), add in a pinch of Halloween and you have a trip that will be remembered for a very long time.
When it was announced that the All Blacks were to play the USA rugby team at Soldier Field, I immediately organised tickets through school friends that now call Chicago home. This was an event I did not want to miss. By a stroke of luck, the night before the test match featured the Chicago Bulls at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The chance to see Derrick Rose and LeBron James in action was a very exciting addition to the itinerary.
Before I continue, it has just been announced that the 2015 Rugby World Cup winning All Blacks will return to Chicago’s Soldier Field to play Ireland (http://chicago.suntimes.com/sports/7/71/1101186/chicago-will-host-blacks-rugby-match-ireland). I hope this article might inspire some who wish to experience top level sport in a fantastic location. If the amount of Irish Pubs in Chicago is anything to go by, this will pretty much be a home game for Ireland!
Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center
Final score: 114-108 Cleveland Cavaliers
The United Center is located on Madison Street, west of Downtown Chicago. The locals call it the “Madhouse” on Madison. I can now see why…
What immediately hits you when watching a basketball game here is the sheer size of the indoor stadium. It is huge. A sea of adoring fans wearing red. The pre and halftime entertainment is worth the ticket price alone. You are watching a real production – much like I imagine watching a WWF wrestling tournament would be like. Seated in front of us was a legend of basketball – Scotty Pippin. You can’t help but feel starstruck by such a name.
The game itself was fast and furious. I would not call myself a huge fan of watching basketball on TV, but watching it live was breathtaking. The players are constantly working on the court. A Bulls victory would have been the icing of the cake, but it was not to be. Lebron James controlled the court like nothing I have seen. Derrick Rose’s early departure to injury cannot have helped the Bulls cause.
NBA Basketball game… tick. Loved it.
New Zealand All Blacks vs. USA Eagles at Soldier Field
Final Score: 74-6 New Zealand All Blacks
I arrived in Chicago very late on Thursday night. On the Friday before the match, the All Blacks were having a fan meet & greet at the Howells & Hood in Downtown Chicago. I have never seen a line so long for such an event – and I have attended a few All Black events. The light snow while lining up added to the extraordinary experience. After an afternoon mingling with All Blacks, locals and visitors alike, I was ready for the next days rugby match.
If I thought the Madhouse was big, I was in for a real treat at Soldier Field – home of the Chicago Bears. In Auckland, New Zealand, we think Eden Park is a big stadium – it has nothing on Soldier Field. The actual seat count may be similar, but the footprint of Soldier Field is mammoth. The Greek columns at the field entrance add to its presence. The whole stadium has a spaceship-like feel to it.
Before entering the stadium, we were required to participate in what American’s call tailgating. Tailgating involves much consuming of food and drink in the carpark of the stadium. Hundreds of fans partook this particular game day ritual of crowding around a vehicle, wearing mostly USA colours but with a decent amount of (all) black thrown in. Spirits were indeed high in both camps on a very crisp, clear Chicago Saturday afternoon.
While the USA rugby team were no match for the All Blacks, the whole experience was fantastic. The USA fans stayed right to the end and expressed their love of rugby in their own very unique, very American way – most wearing USA inspired costumes.
We finished the day with more tailgating (when in Rome) and a short walk to the nearest Irish Pub. I cannot wait to see the All Blacks take on the mighty Irish here in 2016.
Halloween in Chicago
I end this article with how beautiful Chicago, particularly the village of Oak Park, is at this time of year.
Houses that would not look out-of-place in a storybook were decorated with skeletons, ghosts, and large carved pumpkins usually combined with a very fat squirrel nearby waiting for you to move on so that they can continue their feast. Piles of golden leaves lay waiting to be collected and there was a chill in the air reminding one that it was about to get very, very cold.