There was something typically American about the United States squad turning down a ceremonial ride in a Maori canoe because they thought that part of their welcome from the city of Wanganui didn't sound safe.
After all, they come from a litigious part of the world.
To the Eagles' credit, though, as soon as they learned they'd upset the local people, they apologized for missing the cultural significance and said they'll be happy to go for a paddle on the sedate Whanganui River this Sunday.
It could be the safest thing they do in New Zealand for the next month, while they try to buck expectations in the World Cup of being the punching bag of Pool C.
The Eagles are lumped with, in order of matches: Ireland, Russia, Australia and Italy. Of those, they've only ever beaten Russia, and that match on September 15 promises to be a virtual World Cup final for both teams.
Mike Petri, the scrumhalf who has been playing in New York since high school, wishes he didn't have to deal with heading to his second World Cup knowing he needs miracles to win it.
"I'd like to see the day the USA is a real challenger for the trophy," Petri said. "We're realistic. We have a tough pool in front of us and our priority is to go out and put on the best performance we can."
History doesn't suggest their best will be enough. The United States Eagles have only two wins at World Cups, both against Japan in 1987 and 2003. Since the last tournament in 2007, they've won only eight tests, of which four were over World Cup teams. In their most recent test last month, Japan beat them in rainy Tokyo.
So are the Eagles any better than four years ago? Petri says comparisons aren't valid.
"It's a different team, different coaching staff, different tournament, the dynamics to this squad are different," said Petri, who's had stints with Sale Sharks and Newport. "A lot of teams go in and take some things for granted. Hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of that."
So the Eagles are counting on being underestimated. It worked last time. The United States held its own in France, and even finished with the official try of the year, beginning with Todd Clever's intercept near their tryline, and finishing with Taku Ngwenya twisting up South Africa's Bryan Habana then flashing past the world's best winger at the time to score the try. That earned Ngwenya a contract in France.
The United States hasn't produced another signature moment since. More funding than ever from the International Rugby Board has helped set up competitions such as the North American 4 and its successor, the Americas Championship, but the Eagles still can't catch Argentina or Canada.
Every June since 2003, they've also had the Churchill Cup. They won minor silverware this year for only the second time - at Russia's expense in a close contest - but that came after an 87-8 pasting from England's second-string side and a 44-13 blowout from Tonga.
Hardly anyone in the United States was stirred by the 87-8 result, because that weekend, the United States college Sevens championship in Philadelphia attracted 17,000 fans and 14 hours of live TV.
It's arguable whether the face of United States rugby is the Eagles, or the national Sevens team coached by Al Caravelli, America's answer to New Zealand Sevens supremo Gordon Tietjens.
The United States reached its first Sevens world series final last year in Adelaide, Australia and regularly collects a trophy. The world tour stop in Las Vegas is increasingly popular. There's a Sevens tournament somewhere in the United States every weekend, and its new Olympic status is fuelling the surge to the point where Sevens, unlike 15-a-side and the Eagles, attracts sponsors and makes a profit.
But the Eagles have a chance to make a statement because, for the first time, 10 World Cup games will be on American TV, three on free-to-air NBC. However, NBC will show only one Eagles game, the opener against Ireland, the team Eagles coach Eddie O'Sullivan expected to lead to a third successive World Cup this year until he quit under pressure in 2008.
O'Sullivan's enduring faith and sticking to a large core of players has helped the United States to as high as 16th in the rankings, three spots higher than when he took over in 2009.
"We're not a team to be overlooked," Petri said. "We want to show our families back home and supporters back home and players throughout the world that American rugby players are capable of playing at the top level and can be competitive."
And they're used to paddling upstream.
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