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A Season of Faith’s Perfection

posted by Mickey on 10/21/03

First up, some book-keeping. Here is the first part of this two-part post. You needn't think the fact that, like, 18 months have elapsed since it went up was not PART OF THE PLAN. There was always meant to be a long wait between Dave throwing this particular Hail Mary pass, and me leaping into the air to pull it down, and start my bullocking run towards the, what do you call it, touchdown zone, or whatever. To demonstrate that it was always written in the sands of fate that things would unfold this way, here is a picture of Destiny's child.


Q.E.D.

All right, you might say it wasn't just a Hail Mary pass that Dave threw. It was more the kind of pass that you would have time to ponder while going three times around a set of rosary beads, pondering the Joyful mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the other sort of the Mysteries, whatever they are. I think they might be called the Mysterious Mysteries. Anyway, that is probably about enough of that metaphor.

Now, to present my qualifications for writing the second part of this post, here there are:

None.

Zip.

Nada.

Less than nada.

I am going to dispense with Dave's original idea of writing about the Nets and the Demons in this part of the post, since pretty much everything I know about either team is already contained in Part 1. However, although I know little about American sports, and almost nothing about New Jersey sporting franchises, I do get kind of enthusiastic about my favourite teams in the big time world of Australian Sport, and this year has been a bit of a miracle year for me, since, against heavy odds, all the teams I support have done pretty well.

In Australian Football, the Sydney Swans, who most commentators had tipped as the likely wooden spooners, amazed everyone by making it all the way through to the preliminary final, the penultimate game of the year, and put up a much better show against the Brisbane Lions, the eventual premiers, than the other Grand Finalists, Collingwood, managed. My poor doomed beautiful Swans haven't won a premiership since 1933, so it was not like not winning came as any big surprise. Although they haven't won in my lifetime, or my father's lifetime, I am certain the Sydney Swans will win the Australian Football League some day. If not in my lifetime or my children's lifetime, then in the generation after that, or the one after that. Perhaps.


Up there, Cazaly!

In professional netball, the Sydney Swifts went one better and made it all the way to the Grand Final, and, even better the match was held at the Sydney Superdome, and even better than that, I had courtside seats to see one of the most titanic games ever played in the history of the sport. Sadly, though, as great as the Swifters were on the night, the Melbourne Phoenix were even better, and pinched the game from them by three points. I did get to see myself on television by racing home in time to catch the replay. I saw an extremely passionate, red-faced screaming man, doing everything he could to cheer his team to victory through sheer wild-eyed raving fanaticism.


The race is not always to the Swifts

In amateur netball, the team of which I am the captain, the mighty CANDYASS stunned the netball world by blowing the other team off the park to become the reigning premiers in the Moore Park Legends Mixed Netball Competition. Carve their names with pride. Yeah, I know the Legends comp, as hardly fought as the games always are, is not exactly professional sport, but I needed to include a brief look at this competition to create a context for the next sentence I am about to write. And now for … the fourth piece of the puzzle.

A few days ago I fulfilled a longstanding dream by attending the Grand Final of the National Rugby League competition. Rugby League is a gladiatorial sport that is popular in the northern States of Australia, and although it is not very popular anywhere else, people here love it. Before Sydney built a new stadium for the Olympics, the big event used to be held in a stadium with about a 40 000 capacity, and naturally tickets would sell like hotcakes and they'd all be gone within about 20 minutes of going on sale. Indeed, Grand Final tickets sell even faster than hotcakes. When I visit a diner, I am constantly amazed to see hotcakes on the menu. Sometimes the waitresses seem kind of blasé about selling them. “Hey, don't you know how popular these things are?” I say. “Give me some pronto, before everyone else snaps them up. I swear to God, you are sitting on a marketing goldmine there, and you don't even know it!”

As popular as hotcakes are, like I say, I have been in diners where they are on sale, and they don't sell at a rate of 40 000 per 20 minutes. Anyway, with the game now being held in the Olympic stadium, the capacity is a lot larger, but I was still unbelievably lucky to obtain a ticket.

My Rugby League team is the Penrith Panthers. As with the Sydney Swans in the Australian Football League, pre-season expectations placed them towards the bottom of the table, and they exceeded all realistic expectations by getting as far as they did. The year before last they finished the season in bottom place, and only the facts that an under-prepared team was re-admitted to the competition last year, and another team was stripped of most of its premiership points for exceeding the salary cap stopped them from finishing in the same place in 2002. At the beginning of the season, bookmakers were giving Penrith only a derisive 100-1 shot at winning the premiership.

Even when they made it through to the preliminary final, no-one expected Penrith to beat the Auckland Warriors in the preliminary final. I took advantage of everyone else's momentary paralysis of their senses, brought on by the magnitude of the upset, to sneak in under the wire and obtain my seat to the game. As it was, I was only able to get one ticket. Here is how my conversation with the ticket seller went.

VON HANGMAN. Do you have any tickets left for the Grand Final?

TICKET SALESWOMAN. No.

VON HANGMAN (Poking out bottom lip): Oh. OK. [Walks away]

TICKET SALESWOMAN. Hold on. Mr Reeves, I think I can get you a ticket. There's only one. Is that all right?

VON HANGMAN. You mean, you are going to sell me the last ticket to the Grand Final. Cool! Whoaa!

Now, I don't really know if that means I got literally the last ticket available to the public, but I like to think so. And if I got it just because someone mistook me for Keanu Reeves, well, you've gotta take the good with the bad, I always say. As a Penrith fan, I know a lot about taking the bad.

Penrith used to be a town in its own right situated at the base of the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, but a couple of decades ago the town was swallowed-up into Sydney by urban sprawl. Without wanting to over-generalise, it would be fair to say that the people of Penrith belong to a lower socio-economic class. Unfortunately, all the pollution that belches out of Sydney's industry settles in the Penrith basin, making it difficult to breath-in anything except carbon monoxide. The Penrith Panthers have been in the NRL since 1967, and for most of that time have been at the very bottom of the ladder. Also, for most of their history the team were known as the Chocolate Soldiers, because they wore uniforms which were the same color as chocolate. It did not go unnoticed by the supporters of every other club that this was the same colour as shit. At the start of the 1990s, the Panthers played in two Grand Finals, winning the second of them, and appeared to have a team that could go on to accomplish even greater things. Instead, a promising junior player named Ben Alexander drank too much at a football jumper presentation and died in a car crash. He was the brother of the Panthers' captain, and best player, the graceful Greg Alexander. After the tragedy, a whole soap opera, too depressing to reprise here, played itself out, which resulted in the club losing all its best senior players, and returning to its accustomed position at the bottom of the NRL pile.

So, Penrith shocked itself by making it through to the Grand final this year. Their opponents, the Sydney Roosters, (aka Eastern Suburbs), were not shocked to be there at all. They were the reigning Premiers. The Roosters' fan base covers one of the most affluent parts of Sydney, and the club had assembled an all-star team who were hardly expected raise a sweat in accounting for the Panthers.

On the day of the Grand Final, as if in karmic retribution at my good fortune in scoring a ticket, the God of Meteorology poured torrential rain down on Sydney all afternoon. Before describing what it was like being there, watching my underdog team go around in the biggest game of the year, I want to create a bit of context by telling you a bit about the last Grand Final game, which I watched on the television.

Last year, when it was announced that the pre-match entertainment would be Billy Idol, there was a pretty general view that the National Rugby League was onto a winner. After all, what name is more synonymous with Rugby League than Billy Idol? In fact, I think quite a few of the 80 000 people who showed up to Olympic Stadium last year were there primarily to see B.I., with the actual game of football being a bit of icing on the cake.

The way he staged his entrance was pretty spectacular. There was the stage, and on it was Billy Idol's band. They looked pretty heated up. The lead guitarist, in particular, looked fantastic, decked out like Keith Richard circa 1971 and ready to rock like a motherfucker. They were blasting out the riff of "White Wedding", but ... where was Billy?

Well, such was the showmanship of the 47 year old superstar, that he was in fact in a hovercraft, being directed towards the stage. He got out of the hovercraft and bounded up the steps. It was a magical moment. The spirit of rock and roll was present in the stadium. Pounding drums brought the instrumental version of "White Wedding" to its conclusion, and Billy grabbed the microphone.

BILLY IDOL. I love my footy. Are there any Warriors fans out there?

WARRIORS FANS. Wooo!!

BILLY IDOL. Are there any Roosters fans out there?

ROOSTERS FANS. Yeah!!

BILLY IDOL [sneering broadly]. We're gonna rock and roll.

What happened next was nothing, since the power had somehow become disconnected.

BILLY IDOL. We're just going to get some power and then we're going to rock.

Billy walked around the stage, pumping his fist into the air, for four or five minutes. In the commentary box, the commentator was saying, "Oh boy, Billy is pumped. Imagine how pumped he is going to be when the power does come on. The wild man of rock. And we can only imagine the effect this delay will be having on the players waiting in the dressing room."

Given those comments, it seems pretty safe to say that Billy's performance, if it had ever eventuated, would have been one of the most electrifying in the history of rock and roll. It is to doubly regretted, then, that no technical solution could be found to the problem, and after 10 minutes of so, Billy walked off the stage and did not return.

(The other highlight of last year's Grand Final, apart from the game itself, came at halftime, when commentator and former football great, Peter Sterling put in a plug for the movie his network was screening the game, “American Beauty”. I think Sterlo must have been tossing up in his mind whether to call it “a quaint movie” or “a great movie”. He compromised by saying: “Stay with us after the game on Channel Nine, where we'll be screening Kevin Spaey and Annette Bening in 'American Beauty'. It's a quait movie.”)


Peter Sterling: Quait Expectations

Given last year's technical disaster, I think everyone in the stadium was holding their breath when the mighty Meatloaf, this year's pre-match entertainer, also decided to be motored towards the stage. Instead of travelling by hovercraft, Meatloaf was chauffeured to the platform in what looked to me like a cream-coloured Aston Martin (I don't know much about cars, so if you were there and it was a different model of car, sorry). He grabbed the mike and launched into an awesome version of "Bat Out of Hell" and the crowd went apeshit, although it was not quite clear whether all of the celebration was for the artist, or whether some of the applause was for the electricians who had managed this time around to deliver a audible performance.

While Meatloaf caterwauled, some face-painted glamour dancers, dressed in abbreviated versions of various teams' playing strips, underlined the little known fact that “Bat Out of Hell” is actually a song about Rugby League. (I had always assumed it was about cricket, which shows you how wrong I can be).


You took the words light out of my mouth

After Meatloaf sang a couple of songs, there was another international guest in the person of Kelly Clarkson, the winner of "American Idol". Now, I know this was a successful show in the United States, but I did not know much else about it, to the extent that my reaction to Kelly Clarkson's appearance was, "Whoaa! Kelly Clarkson is a chick!" For some reason I had been expecting to see a guy with a kind of a horsey-looking face and a lot of curly hair. He must have been one of the other near-winners of "American Idol". Anyway, Kelly Clarkson sang a song called "A Moment Like This" while Wally Lewis and a lot of other great Rugby League players from the past assembled behind her on the stage. I am sure she was wondering who all these guys with broken noses and cauliflower ears were, but like the trooper she no doubt is, it didn't distract her from reaching for the high notes of a pretty horrible song.


Kelly Clarkson, and the dude I thought was Kelly Clarkson

As previously mentioned, all afternoon it had been pissing down rain, and the rain started up again in earnest just as the Grand Final did. I was not under cover, so I got soaked. I was seated between a phalanx of Panthers fans, and another phalanx of Roosters supporters. At half-time, the Roosters supporters all ran for the cover of the stands, as if they were made of sugar and were about to dissolve in the rain, which the Panthers' fans I befriended agreed was pretty gutless.

I won't go into a play-by-play description of the game, since that would be meaningless for most readers. The Panthers scored the only try (or what American readers might think of as a touchdown) in the first half, but early on in the second half, the Roosters had all the play and eventually scored a try, which they converted, to equalise the score, and the game entered the period in which it really hung in the balance, until Todd Byrne, one of the fastest Roosters players, made a line break and ran almost the length of the field with the ball under his arm. A few meters short of the line, he was brought to earth by the Penrith player Scott Sattler, who is a player more known for his courage than his speed, but who had sprinted from the opposite corner, also the length of the field, to be able to make the tackle, which, in the context of the game, probably prevented the Rosters from running away with the game. Scott Sattler's father, John Sattler, went down in Rugby League folklore in 1970, when he played 75 minutes out of the 80 minutes of a Grand Final for the South Sydney Rabbitohs with a broken jaw. I am sure he must have been very proud to see his son also enter into the realms of Grand Final legend. Certainly the Panthers, who had been looking very vulnerable, lifted. The game remained locked up for a period until Luke Priddis, the Panther's hooker sold a dummy and charged over the tryline, right in front of the sticks, to give the Panthers ascendency. In the closing period of the game, the ball was clearly as difficult to handle as a cake of soap. (insert “hotcakes” style routine here, to indicate 1). I know I have used a cliché; and 2). I can't think of anything better to compare the slipperiness of the ball to than a cake of soap, without being totally and unnecessarily gross). Six minutes from the end, Priddis, the man of the match, floated out a beautiful long pass towards the left touch line, that was gleefully accepted by the Panthers' winger Luke Rooney, who slid over the tryline making a big water angel as he went.

So, apart from being wet, and hoarse, how did I feel, watching those last minutes, with the Roosters running around like headless chooks, trying to pull off miracle plays that couldn't, and didn't work? How did I feel when the final siren went? I would not say I felt happy. I felt giddy. I had worn my old Chocolate Soldiers guernsey to the game, and when the siren sounded, I was embraced, almost crash tackled, by a lovely young woman named Kylie, who had been sitting near me, and who maybe saw me looking more pensive than joyful, and who seemed to wish to console me for all the years of heartbreak that the Panthers had gone through. She kept saying ,"We deserve it. We deserve it." After a minute or so, I think her boyfriend, who had no noticeable affiliation in terms of the colors he had chosen to wear to the event was too impressed, and I broke off the clinch, but I have to admit, in a way going beyond sleaziness, that I was really glad there was someone there, even a stranger, to hug. The players collected their trophy, and did a slow lap of honor around the field, while the loudspeakers played the anthem for all people who are about to get kicked in the head by life, "We Are The Champions". The tickets sold like hotcakes, the ball was as slippery as a cake of soap, and I would not have swapped the feelings that welled through me while I listened to "We Are the Champions" for all the tea in China. Because, goddamn it, what would I do with all the goddamn tea in China anyway?

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