I’m not really a sports fan. Sure, I’ve caught a Super Bowl or two and I even went to a Florida Marlins baseball game once, but I’ve never been able to get excited over sports. I think it’s a psychological block.
I understand and admire the ethos of sportsmanship such as fair play, grace in victory or defeat, and so forth, the aesthetic appreciation for sports like gymnastics and martial arts, and technological interest in technique or equipment, but all the hype and hyperbole, scandal, and consumerism surrounding sports along with the idolization of sports figures can be a real turn-off. Even when I can quiet down my inner social critic for a while, I still find it hard to get excited about sports. I wouldn’t say that Miami is a sports city despite its well-known teams. More than once, Miami fans have been accused of being disloyal and fair-weather fans, if they show up at all. So imagine my surprise when Theo introduced me to Australian football and I liked it.
It was the 2010 AFL Grand Final between St. Kilda and Collingwood, the team Theo and I, by extension, support. I was hooked right away. What a game! Aussie footy is nothing less than sheer awesomeness. It’s not like American football and it’s not rugby or cricket, whatever that is, but it is intensely physical, fast-paced, high-scoring, and very intuitive. While I’ve never fully caught on to the rules of American football, basketball, or baseball, I caught on to footy quickly. Theo joked that by the second game I’d ever watched I understood what had taken him 30 years.
Aussie Rules football is played on an oval and each team has up to 18 players on the field at once. It is a contact sport, but there’s less of the straight-on-collision that you see in American football. Unlike their helmeted, heavily padded, huge American cousins, Aussie players are lean, fast, and do not wear similar protective gear. The objective of Aussie Rules is to score the most points by passing the ball through the opponent’s goal posts over four quarters. Accuracy matters as there are four posts; the center scores six points, which is a goal, while the two sides score just one point as does hitting the posts.
The game starts with the umpire literally bouncing the ball on the ground and two tall players called ruckmen fight to tip it to their teammates as it comes down. From there on, a player can run with the ball, but has to bounce it off the turf about every 10 meters or so; he can kick it; or he can “handpass” the ball, which is actually done via an underhanded punch. He can’t throw it and he can’t really hold it. Meanwhile, opposition player may bump or tackle to obtain the ball. It is a lot of fun to watch. There are other nuances and penalties and the unique “mark”, but, seriously, just go watch a game.
While you’re watching, notice the stadium. It’s full and people are wearing team colors and cheering. Aussies love their footy and they show up in droves for it. It adds to an already fun and exciting game experience. I told Theo that we absolutely must go see a footy game live. He tells me Collingwood is the team everyone loves to hate, but it’s got the most loyal fans. One more here.
Collingwood made it all the way to the AFL Grand Final again 2011, but lost it to Geelong. Here’s to a winning season in 2012!
About the photo: (CC) BY-NC-ND Charles Van den Broek