Meeting the Rabbitohs: Inside the Inner Sanctum of the Rabbitohs

"Practice Makes Perfect, my Bunnies!"

“Practice Makes Perfect, my Bunnies!”

It is often said that one oughta never meet their heroes in person, for they will only be disappointed and/or heartbroken.  And to think Hollywood arguably invented that dumb saying, and to think they’re the ones who enable John Q. Public to love their heroes.  It’s like mass manufactured masochism in the name of money.  But I digress.  For I am not here to talk about Hollywood, but I am here to talk about the time where I met some new heroes of mine.  Suffice it to say, I was far from disappointed.  Hollywood and its cliches be damned, for I met some of the greatest people around, and they don’t even have Oscars or Emmys to their name.  Only these people were not celebrities, they were professional athletes.  But unlike in America, where our national sports stars are usually celebrities first, athletes second, this was at a footy practice in Sydney, Australia, where they’re athletes first, celebrities second.  Who am I talking about?  The South Sydney Rabbitohs!  Duh!

It was one year ago when I first walked in on the Rabbitohs, as they were practicing in the rain at the Redfern Oval; a happy moment, as I had walked in on them totally by accident.  Back then, I was still sort of a newcomer to the world of footy, and I was nervous as hell; I barely worked up enough courage to say hello.  When I had blurted out that I came all the way from New York, it definitely stopped some in their tracks.  I had scored a selfie and a handshake with hooker/prop Jason Clark, which was a pretty awesome moment.  This time around, it wouldn’t be pretty awesome.  It would be more like, pretty FREAKIN’ awesome!

"An army of Australian bunnies!"

“An army of Australian bunnies!”

Rabbitohs Hooker, Jason Clark.  I am truly honored to be among the Rabbitohs!

Rabbitohs Hooker, Jason Clark. I am truly honored to be among the Rabbitohs!

Unlike last year, it was sunny day in Redfern; a great day to be an Australian bunny rabbit.  I had come to the Oval with the intent of mixing business with pleasure.  How, you ask?  I was scheduled to meet with the Rabbitohs digital media team inside the headquarters on Chalmers Street, just across the street from the Oval in the afternoon.  But with less than three hours to kill, I enjoyed a light lunch at the adjacent Park Cafe, a favorite eatery of mine in Sydney, and not just the fact that they good sandwiches and in a comfy locale.  OK, its also because they have free Wi-Fi!  One schnitzel sandwich and a flat white later, I took my seat along the lengthy bleachers facing the greenest field in all of Redfern.  By the way, I was dressed to the nines, since I was going in for a legitimate interview with the Rabbitohs digital media team.

I sat patiently on the bleachers, watching the Rabbitohs duck and dodge every tackle on the field; the savage ballet that is footy is a magnificent spectacle of athletic endurance, even during a practice run.  I had seen the Burgess Brothers run the ball and tackle beautifully on TV and at a live game, but never this close!  Even for a practice run, the passing and tackling was exactly the kind of performance I would be hoping to see when the Rabbitohs would play Manly at the first qualifying match at Allianz.

Just before practice ended, I was saying hello to the fans watching their footy faithful handle the ball.  As usual, once I said that I was from New York, I had their undivided attention!  A trio of young men asked me to pose with them for a photo, a father and son shook my hand, and a woman escorted me to her car where she unloaded a Sam Burgess mask for me!  I have to say, the nice thing about being an American fan of Souths, is that I never have to buy another piece of Souths merchandise; I am almost set for life at this point!  The kindness of the fans is something I wish New York sports fan had just a little of.  Fan devotion and knowledge of their favorite team is one thing, but just once, I wish Yankee or Giants fan had little bit of bunny in them!

Once I saw the players head to sidelines for water, I knew it was now or never.  I unraveled my poster, marched silently towards the 50 m line, and made my move.  Before I could say anything, I took notice of how all the fans seemed so cool with asking the players for autographs and pictures and how the players seemed so alright with that.  I mean, I had seen on Facebook how they even stop for random shots with the fans at airports and restaurants.  There were no angry bouncers or agents to ruin the fun and no one was being yelled at.  This was almost too good to be true.  Before I could say “Hi”, I saw Jason Clark leaning on the sideline fence.  I thought to myself “Do you think he remembers me?  I mean, I know he follows me on Twitter, but do you suppose?”

“Jason!”, I shouted.  I’m surprised I didn’t blush heavily after that.

Me and Jason Clark

Me and Jason Clark

“Hey, Jared!  Hey, mate!  How are ya?!”, he said in his thick Aussie tone.  And just like that, I was in.  Even after 350 days since my last encounter with him, he still remembered me.  He complemented me on my poster; his eyebrows looked like they were gonna peak above his forehead.  Without hesitation, I asked him to sign my Rabbitohs work of art; he happily obliged.  With that necessary boost of confidence, I began flagging down players left and right.  From Greg Inglis, to Adam Reynolds, to the Burgess Brothers, I felt like the luckiest bunny in the world (with all due respect to those who have been following the Bunnies longer than I have)!  Naturally, they seemed stopped in their tracks when I told them that I came all the way from Long Island for this.  When I had asked Sam Burgess to autograph my poster, he asked what football team did I go for.  I answer “Giants!” with the same level of enthusiasm that I give when people ask me about the Rabbitohs.  At that moment, like Pavlov’s Dog, all the players began shouting, “Jets!”  “Broncos!”  “49ers!”  “Patriots!”  “Seahawks!”

Me and Greg Inglis

Me and Greg Inglis

Me and Slammin' Sam Burgess!

Me and Slammin’ Sam Burgess!

Me and Adam Reynolds!

Me and Adam Reynolds!

It was like I turned on a switch.  Suddenly, these Aussie blokes revealed a side to them that I didn’t know about’em.  I always figured myself an American on the inside, an Australian bunny on the inside.  These enormous Aussies (The Burgess Brothers being British) seemed to be hardcore American sports fans on the inside.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they all started fighting over which baseball team is the worst or which beer tastes the best with nachos.  You know what?  We’re not that different!  Professional sports oughta be the great uniter of all nations.

Finally, I came face to face with the leader of the Bunnies: the coach himself, Michael “Madge” Maguire.  This fiery captain of the Owsla (and I’m sure all you Bunnies fans get that reference!) is one I admire, in that he reminds me of my high school varsity coach.  Last year, during Round 25, when the Bunnies played the floundering Wests Tigers at ANZ Stadium, the Bunnies trailed at halftime.  The cameras cut to Madge in the locker room exploding at his crew with the kind of hotheadedness and passion one expects from a coach who takes the game, along with winning seriously!  That verbal tongue-lashing took me right back to high school when our coach would not hold anything back when we were struggling or had stopped trying.  Not to mention both the Rabbitohs and my Lawrence Woodmere Academy Tigers are both perennial winners.

Me and Michael "Madge" Maguire

Me and Michael “Madge” Maguire

After getting my poster decorated with signatures left and right, I headed up to the red and green nirvana of the Souths Merchandise store where I prepared to face the inner sanctum of the Rabbitohs HQ.  I was taken behind closed doors (seriously, I’m a Yank being invited into the offices of the oldest and most winning club in Australia.  How awesome is this?!) where I was introduced to three members of the Rabbitohs digital media team: Jeremy (Jezza), Tom, and Chris.  For the next 90 minutes, they picked my brain and I spilled my guts.  If that analogy grosses you out, sorry, but that is the most accurate description I could possibly give on behalf of the team.  Throughout the meeting, they seemed so impressed with my knowledge and passion for the team; one of them thought I was an Australian pretending to be American!  They asked me things like what they do well with their website and what they could do better.  For a while, I felt a little out of my element discussing business terms, but I just did what I do best: talk about the Bunnies!  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt like I could be a legitimate member of the team someday, and not just a fan.  Do you suppose they could use the services of an enthusiastic Yank?

Me and Jeremy "Jezza" Monahan

Me and Jeremy “Jezza” Monahan

By the end of afternoon, my poster was know adorned with the signatures of some of the finest blokes in all of Australia, including the three members of the digital media team!  I just couldn’t help but love the fact that these amazing athletes, the very same people that I had seen on both TV and on trading cards, were so cool and humble; two traits that I feel have been somewhat absent from American professional sports.  To be fair, not everyone is an arrogant celebrity who makes zero time for the fans, but to me, the Rabbitohs represent something more than just amazing athleticism.  The players, the fans, the game, as well as their mascot all represent what I wish professional sports exuded more of.  Showing the fans how much they are loved reminded me of what Jezza said during an interview on the Sports Geek Podcast: “Members come first!”  Membership is what matter most to the club.  Well, that plus winning a Premiership of course.  Based on what I had learned, all I can say is this:  This world could use a few more Australian bunny rabbits.

Rabbitohs: bringing families closer together!

Rabbitohs: bringing families closer together!

"Fly that bunny high, lil' anklebiter!"

“Fly that bunny high, lil’ anklebiter!”

About admin

I am a graduate of Stony Brook University, and I have a degree in History. I am an avid traveler, with an extensive knowledge of geography, a passion for photography, and a knowledge of animals too. I enjoy pop music of the 1980's, fine dining, movies, baseball, basketball, and rugby.
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3 Responses to Meeting the Rabbitohs: Inside the Inner Sanctum of the Rabbitohs

  1. Michael Reid says:

    Hi Jared, great story. This is how we are out here. No pretense just down to earth people with a passion bordering on fanaticism for our football team. I’ve been following your journey over here with a lot of interest. As you have found out we open our hearts and homes to complete strangers and treat them like family. It’s great to know you fly the flag for us in NY. I hope to one day visit NY and experience what we only see on TV. I’ve twice been to Hawaii and spent part of my honeymoon in California visiting Disneyland but there really wasn’t enough time to see everything I wanted to. I hope you thoroughly enjoy the rest of your visit here and like all passionate Souths supporters, the Mighty Rabbitohs can win the title after a 43 year drought to give us all a huge thrill. I purchase Grand Final tickets every year, but feel this truly is our year and wouldn’t want to be a true fan who misses the glory of our team lifting the trophy for the long suffering faithful who support our great team.

  2. Will Gotsis says:

    Sitting here eating my lunch and reading your Blog, as good as it gets my American Bunny Brother! You encapture everything that is good about being a Rabbitohs fan and more. You have certainly made an inprint on the fabric of the Rabbitohs as is illustrated by Jason Clark coming up to you and remembering who you were some 12mths later. Then again, how many Americans follow our great sport and moreover, the Mighty South Sydney? There should be more of you…. Thank you for flying our flag abroad and if I haven’t said it 100 times before, Welcome to the Family! Glory Glory to South Sydney!

  3. Carol Clima says:

    What a great story Jared. We are all member of the great Rabbitoh Family. Our players are SENSATIONAL. My husband & I were having a meal in a SS supporter Café in Coogee when GI came in with his wife and a friend. he actually stopped to say ‘Hi’ as I was in SS gear. Amazing.

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