All Blacks become faces in the crowd at Cubs' victory parade

Perenara: I'm a Cubs fan now (1:02)

All Blacks player TJ Perenara and Julian Savea talk about revelling in the Chicago Cubs' World Series celebrations during the Rugby Weekend. (1:02)

CHICAGO -- On Nov. 4, 2015, All Blacks players TJ Perenara and Julian Savea were on the open-top bus going through Auckland with hundreds of thousands of supporters below screaming in celebration at their 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph.

On a clear, warm day in Chicago exactly a year later, Perenara and Savea joined the millions of locals cheering on the Cubs' bus as it passed down Michigan Avenue with a dyed-blue river running beneath.

It was joy unmatched, with screams, shouts and tears combining to make it a wonderful hullabaloo of Cubs World Series celebration. Waiting 108 years for a championship does that. For the All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, success is expected year-on-year with the quadrennial World Cup's place in their ever-growing trophy cabinet almost pre-booked.

Success is in the lifeblood of the All Blacks, as is public adoration. But as Perenara, Savea, Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane played an impromptu game of baseball on the closed-off East Upper Wacker Drive, eager passersby were a mixture of baseball fans confused by who these silver-fern adorned folk were and All Blacks fans who have journeyed to Chicago for Saturday's Test at Soldier Field.

On Wednesday night, the All Blacks stayed up to watch the Cubs make history. A few had stocked up on merchandise earlier in the day and heard from their hotel rooms the explosion of car horns celebrating the World Series triumph.

It was an unfamiliar experience for them not being the biggest show in town, but they enjoyed being among the fans rather than in the spotlight. They got caught up with the buzz of the event culminating with Friday's parade.

"It's a little bit strange for us," Savea told ESPN in the shortest of breaks before being asked for another photo. "On Wednesday night all the horns were going off. And before, everyone was saying that, win or lose, this town was going to go off. They were right. "I would have loved to have been at Wrigley Field. It's cool to be part of the parade now, though. You only see this sort of stuff on TV, and you don't get to see it close up. It's something special."

For All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, he took a more analytical coaching perspective on the Cubs' triumph. He started his press conference Thursday with the classy touch of congratulating the city's baseball side and offered his thoughts on ending 108 years of waiting.

"It was sporting theatre as you have the highs of the Cubs and the lows of their opponents," Hansen said. "I listened to Joe [Maddon], the Chicago coach, saying that curses and such things aren't what make sport, it's actually the process of getting across the line that makes it."

And for Hansen, the expectation in the city was familiar. "Being involved in a high-profile team, you are expected to win all the time," he added. "You can feel the emotion and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but the emotion's always the same. It takes you to places you don't normally go."

On Friday, with millions descending on the streets of Chicago -- "There's more people here than there are in our whole country," was Perenara's take -- the All Blacks left their hotel to walk the short distance down to Michigan Avenue to be nothing more than faces in the crowd.

Perenara was perhaps the most excited of the All Blacks present. As the first trams passed by with family and friends of the players enjoying the moment, he jumped on Savea's shoulders to get a better view. Teammate Waisake Naholo followed suit, testing Owen Franks' core strength.

For Perenara, he was in that 2015 parade with the All Blacks and also in one just three months ago to celebrate the Hurricanes' Super Rugby triumph. For him, the experience in Chicago was more closely aligned with the Hurricanes' parade, as it was a citywide explosion of pride rather than a nationwide event.

"It's another scale here; there are a lot more people here, and for the Cubs to win it is special," Perenara said. "The only time I ever get to see something like this is on TV. I remember when Cleveland won the NBA, and watching their parade was crazy.

"When we won the World Cup it meant so much to our country, but this is just one city coming together and you can see how much it means to the people."

He could relate to those in the crowd and those on the bus. He knows how those Cubs players feel -- that mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration, living off the buzz of the city. But from Perenara's experience, soon that feeling will abate, leaving one of pure pride in what they have achieved for their city's supporters.

"It's a surreal feeling and it's probably not on the same scale as to what these guys are feeling," Perenara said. "They play baseball because they love it and we play rugby because we love it and it's a game.

"In Super Rugby this year we won it and we saw how much it meant to the young children, the old folk, and that was so special for the city. I imagine they're feeling the same sort of thing, and while they love the game and winning, they will see almost how much more it means for them and those memories will last for longer than that winning buzz."