To put it in perspective to an American, imagine if the NFL’s Pro Bowl mattered to the players and the fans. Imagine if the NFL players felt like it was a privilege and an honor, not a chore and a health risk, to play in the game. Imagine if Troy Palamalu wouldn’t hesitate to knock Ben Rothlesberger’s head off (this scenario isn’t possible in the Pro Bowl because the rosters are assembled by NFC and AFC, but in State of Origin teammates are competing against each other and they hit each other with force). And imagine if the game had the playoff intensity of a division rivalry like Bears-Packers. That is State of Origin—what the Pro Bowl would be if the NFL players gave 110%.
I attended Game 2 of the three-game series. Eighty-thousand people filled ANZ Stadium (one of the venues built for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics). A few highlights of the game:
1) In true rivalry fashion, anything can happen. The NSW Blues players are significantly less experienced than the Queensland Maroons, yet the game was incredibly close and we ended up winning the game. In rivalry games, skill often takes a back seat to team determination in pressure situations and State of Origin is no exception.
2) Australians love to heckle. From the moment we got on the train, anyone wearing a Maroons shirt was subject to verbal abuse. Although I must say, all the Maroons fans rolled with the punches. Nothing ever escalated into anything mean spirited or physical.
3) Australians love to drink. The beer garden outside of ANZ Stadium was packed with thousands of people before the game. And inside, they have a dedicated station for buying beers in bulk. And when I say station, I mean they have a Henry Ford style assembly line with taps filling up 4 beers at a time as pre-racked foursomes of cups roll through. You simply walk into the station, grab your 4 pack, pay $20 bucks, and get back to your seat. True beer efficiency genius.
4) ANZ Stadium holds a great crowd. I was very impressed with the crowd atmosphere of ANZ Stadium. It has one of those new era half domes that covers the seats but is open air above the field of play, which echos lots of the crowd noise back into the stadium. Everyone watched the competition closely and reacted accordingly with the great (and bone-headed) plays. I had a headache from cheering so much in the second half of the game.
I love watching live sport. Some of the best games I’ve attended off the top of my head—Indiana at Assembly Hall, Bears at Soldier Field, Michigan at The Big House, Cubs at Wrigley, and the Blackhawks at the United Center. It’s hard for me to rank State of Origin ahead of any of the games played at these venues, but I honestly can say that it holds its own against some of the premiere sporting events in the States.