It’s like an Aussie once played rugby, but decided that was too easy and added more players on a bigger field and dressed them in tank tops and shorts.
Well, Bucs training camp started this week. In other news, who cares? (Editor's note: The Bucs ignored our request for media access. Apparently they intend to let their reputation speak for itself. We wish them the best with that.)
If you’re sick of watching overpaid divas who get away with beating their wives and continue playing in a formerly-tax-exempted league that makes $7 billion annually, but you'd still like to get shitfaced on Sunday watching sports, might I suggest a different type of football? As the NFL tries to stay relevant in the off season, a group of Bay Area residents gear up for a very different kind of football: Australian.
Formally known as Australian football, it’s better known by its nickname "Aussie rules", or simply just “footy”, and it has everything: running, kicking, hitting, more running, more hitting and then a lot more running. Fitness is key. How fit do you need to be? You need to be at fitness level: Australian. That means drink your beers, kiddos and hit the track.
I gave this sport a try for the first time on July 30 at Crescent Lake Park. I wanted to experience the appeal. I joined in a practice session with the St. Petersburg Swans, who will start competing in October's Tampa Bay Australian Rules Football Club.
I expected the team to be some sort of quasi-Australian diaspora community, but ironically enough, there were no Australians. All players were Americans with a passion for the sport. I was assured Aussies were indeed on the team but couldn't make it. There was one Irishman present, so, close enough, I suppose.
The sport originated in Australia around 150 years ago and it’s quintessentially Australian. The game looks like rugby at first look, but its Australian-ness takes over when you realize it’s played on the biggest fucking playing surface of any sport I know. The field size varies, but can be roughly 135-185 meters long — whatever that means (damn Imperial units). It’s like an Aussie once played rugby, but decided that was too easy and added more players on a bigger field and dressed them in tank tops and shorts.
It’s an organized free-for-all. Like rugby, or American football for that matter, the goal is to take the funny-shaped ball down to the other end of the field and kick it or punch it through the upright goal posts.
True to its down-under nature, it’s physical. It’s a barbaric game played by all sizes of players. No pads, full contact, and enough running space that would make Usaine Bolt winded. It’s a game that makes the NFL look like badminton.
Having played soccer my whole life, I figured, “Sure, what the hell?”
Well, I got winded, and I got hit. But getting hit was the cool part. Sucking air after running is my kryptonite.
This surprising fact of this game is its lack of popularity in the United States. It has everything the NFL does, minus the pads and flags thrown every time someone bumps heads. It has fewer stoppages for penalties, and doesn’t last over three hours (which I’m sure would cut into TV advertising dollars). And hey, you’re even allowed to celebrate scoring points in Aussie rules. Take that, NFL!
My first exposure to the game was when I was an insomniac college student who stayed up all night watching TV. Nothing on at 3 a.m. besides infomercials and weird Australian sports on FoxSoccer. I went with Aussie rules. President of the St. Petersburg Swans, Dean Capone, however, was introduced to the game long before that.
Capone explains that when ESPN began, they had no rights to show certain sports, so they would broadcast anything they could. The first sports it started to broadcast? Aussie rules.
Dean became hooked ever since. Now he is managing partner of the Swans who are part of the Tampa Bay Australian Rules Football Club.
The best part of the sport? There's room for everybody: A team typically fields 18 players per side. Some variations of the game only field nine per side, but different players are needed. Some hit, some run, some kick, some do it all. The Swans practice every Thursday evening and Saturday morning and believe me, are more than accommodating when it comes to newbies who want to give it a try.
Give it a few more years, but you might start seeing this sport on ESPN again. Its life in America is in its infancy, but you know kids. They grow up so fast.