When Jarryd Hayne first announced he was calling it quits at the peak of his rugby league career and following his boyhood dream of playing NFL, the scoffs and laughs of the assembled press pack were audible.
That smug, pontificating ass Peter Fitzsimons for example decried that all the “Nelly Naysayers” were “dead right” to doubt Hayne’s ability to make it in the pros, anticipating that “a year from now he’ll be back in league, or more likely French rugby”.
By contrast, the less hard-nosed and pessimistic American sports press were more than happy to get onboard the Hayne Plane. In those early weeks after the announcement the amount of coverage given to Hayne by the US football pundits was truly mind-blowing, especially given he is a complete unknown here and was competing for airtime against big name new drafts from the wildly popular college competition.
Sitting gleefully in sports bars around the country during pre-season – buffalo sauce appropriately adorning my lips and cheeks – I would be stopped in my tracks by surreal on-screen montages of Hayne scoring tries in his Parra and Blues jerseys while a fast-talking ESPN host waxed lyrical about his athletic prowess.
On one occasion, I even saw a map of New South Wales appear on the screen with a dot explaining the geographical location of Minto.
Partly the reaction from the US press may have something to do with the generally more perky and upbeat temperament of both America’s citizens and its journalists.
Hayne has also been a beneficiary of the general trendiness of all things Australian – as any young Aussie male who has ever been to an American nightclub can attest to. Rugby is becoming more popular here by the day and Hayne was well-embraced by the legions of Hugh Jackman and Curtis Stone fans.
But mostly I think the US press just thought – as did most Australian sports fans – that this was a genuinely great story. They respected his decision to follow his dream and turn down complacency despite the risk that any subsequent failure would be so public.
When he officially made the cut and ran out in his San Francisco 49ers colours for the first time – with his jersey already a top international seller – I was overjoyed that his dream had ostensibly come true, rooting for him hard despite having little love for the Niners.
While I wasn’t there to witness it, judging by my Facebook and Twitter feeds the Australian press eventually came around, with no shortage of congratulatory pieces, including from those that had previously written him off before he even had a pigskin in hand.
The Hayne Plane bandwagon seemingly knew no bounds. Whenever people heard my accent they would stop me in the street and ask me about Jarryd Hayne or even make the plane sign with their arms. It was a feel-good fairytale, with a positive message that few could resist.
That’s why it was so disheartening to hear the news last week that Hayne’s contract was being waived. With no rival team picking him up, Hayne eventually was signed to the 49ers practice squad, where some less generous commentators prophesied he would eventually end up.
For my part, I hope Hayne doesn’t regret his decision. Scoring yards in the NFL – often in front of crowds that dwarf even State of Origin or Grand Final attendances in Australia – is nothing to be sneezed at.
He made a tough call, inspired thousands of sports fans in two countries and even managed to get a smile out of the most cynical of sports reporters. He should be immensely proud.
I hope that NSW Premier Mike Baird is right and the Hayne Plane is “not grounded, merely diverted”.
Because nothing would give me more pleasure than to see more egg on Fitzsimon’s ludicrous red bandanna.
Published on 4 November 2015