Is it any wonder that Australian Rules Football shares nearly all distinct traits with the noble kangaroo?
I’m not talking about gnawing on grass or disemboweling opponents — although I suppose that would up the ante of it. No, I’m talking about the basics: the kicking, the punching, the bouncing; you know, all the stuff people love them for.
But before we katalogue the kangaroo komparisons, let me set up Aussie Rules’ situation to my fellow ‘seppos.’ Aussie Rules carries the same weight in Australia as basketball, tennis or four-square carry back home, with a professional league spread across the nation. Granted, the sport can’t hold a candle to rock-’em, sock-’em mainland rugby, but from the southern swath to the Tasmanian hinterlands, Aussie Rules is the game to play.
And boy, what a game it is.
Unlike most, I actually had an inkling of what the game entailed before I expatriated myself. My internship last summer gave me a glimpse into the underground world of the Portland Power, a local Aussie Rules club. The vague, over-the-phone hints of funky pigskins and marsupial mannerisms left me intrigued, but the opportunity to cover a game never came. So, when I learned that I could attend an Aussie Rules game in Sydney, I chomped at the bit, eager to abandon the cuddly koalas for a chance to watch this mysterious game.
Fortunately, my first opportunity to watch a match presented itself almost instantly, and with great anticipation I strode into the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) last month. As the stadium opened up, the emerald field sprawled on an oversized circle of grass, filled with 18 players a side. The turf was pinched on either side by eight multi-story posts, looking like hair-picks in a giant green afro, and random lines of chalk zig-zagged across the pitch. It was truly unlike any field I had ever seen.
But it wasn’t the unique shape of field that captured my attention, nor was it the scarf-wearing, beanie-bearing crowd, whose lone cheer consisted, sadly, of “Syd-ney, Syd-ney, Syd-ney….”
No, what caught my eye was exactly what I had set out for: the game.
Wielding the rounded, overly-inflated football, the ref began the match with the least traditional jump-ball I’d ever seen, ricocheting the pigskin off the ground and into the air for the “ruckmen” to snag.
And thus, I began watching my first game of Aussie Rules Football.
Now, let’s get back to that kwerky kangaroo konnection. Unlike rugby or gridiron, throwing isn’t allowed in Aussie Rules, so the players are instead forced to emulate their favorite bounding beasts. The most common types of passing between teammates are punching or kicking — which just so happen to be two styles of martial arts that feral kangaroos are usually known for. Furthermore, if the ball-carrier is forced to take more than an allotted amount of steps, he must resort to the kangaroos’ means of transport: bouncing (the ball).
Still, just like Shawne Merriman's knee, the game has some kinks to work out. Not only could no one tell me exactly how much time was in a quarter — ranging from 28-32 minutes, it’s apparently at the timekeeper’s discretion — but throughout the match, these random, irritating little men decided to interrupt the action at the most inopportune times. It turned out these roly-polies were actually the trainers and waterboys, distributing drinks and medical tape and all looking about seven feet shorter than the athletes.
Aside from those annoying little people — somehow, only two got flattened during the action— the aspects of soccer, basketball and marsupial all blended to create a free-flowing, highly-physical spectacle that, by the game’s close, brought me to my feet. From the booming, no-look kicks, to Sydney’s main enforcer throwing his weight (and elbows) around — seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if this dude was the inspiration for Ed Norton in American History X — the entire three-hour contest was remarkable.
It may sounds blasphemous, but I think it could be argued that Australian rules football.
Oh, one last kangaroo korrelation: Just because it goes well with ’roo steak, barbecue sauce does not make an Aussie Rules pigskin taste any better.