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 gotten excited over sports. But then I met the AFL.
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 idolisation 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 fair-weather fans, if they show up at all. Imagine my surprise when my partner Theo introduced me to the Australian Football League (AFL) and I liked it.
It was the 2010 AFL Grand Final between St. Kilda and Collingwood, the team Theo and I, by extension, support, or barrack for, as Aussies say. I was hooked right away. What a game! Aussie footy is so much fun. It’s not like American football, which Australians call grid-iron, and it’s not rugby, soccer, or cricket, whatever that is. It is fast-paced and high-scoring. 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 they don’t line up to collide like 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 because there are four posts worth different points. The centre scores six points, which is a goal, while the two sides score just one point and so does hitting the posts.
The game starts with the umpire literally bouncing the ball on the ground and 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 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, especially Melburnians, love footy and they show up in droves for it. The crowd’s energy adds to game experience. I told Theo that we absolutely must go see a footy game live.
Collingwood made it all the way to the AFL Grand Final again 2011, but lost it to the Geelong Cats. Here’s to a winning season in 2012!