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Dawg Sports Down Under - Installment One: An Introduction to Aussie Rules Football

G'day, Dawg Sports Faithful, and I hope all of you are doing well and enjoying your summer in the northern hemisphere. If you're wondering where I've been (and you're likely not, but you're going to find out anyway), on May 6th, I moved to Melbourne, Australia, for work (well, actually, I didn't get to Melbourne until the 13th because I had to go to Tokyo first, but that's neither here nor there). Australia, you say? That sounds splendid! Well, yes, it does...but just keep in mind that it's winter down here, so while the lot of you are coming off of a warm, sunny, three day weekend and holiday that practically serves as the opening ceremony for summer, I'm enjoying highs of 55 with lots of rain. No, I'm not bitter, why do you ask? In any event, I am now, and will be for the foreseeable future, a resident of the lovely island known by its natives as Oz. As such, my postings in relation to the Georgia Bulldogs will likely be few and far between; rather, I'll be doing a series of posts detailing my experiences below the equator, the first of which is discussing Aussie Rules Football. Now, make like a kangaroo and hop on down to the other side of the jump...

Actually, we'll start by taking care of a few housekeeping items. First and foremost, you may notice that I began the post with "G'day", but not "G'day, mate." There's a reason for this...namely, no one really says "G'day, mate." You'll hear both words said, but very rarely will you hear them said together. I don't know if this is to defeat the stereotype, but in any event, that's the way it is. Also, no one drinks Foster's. If Foster's is Australian for beer, then Sonny's is Georgian for barbecue, and now half of you want to shoot me on general principle. Other things to know: it's not "Awstraylia", it's "Astraya"; it's not "Aussie", it's "Ozzy"; and there are hardly ever any r's at the end of words...Melbourne is pronounced Melbun, Auburn is pronounced Aubun, beer is beya, cheers is cheyas, etc. Finally, everything gets shortened...barbecue is bahbie (remember, no r's), breakfast is brekkie, and Ozzy Rules Football, as you can imagine, is "footy".

Footy itself bears little to no resemblance to American football in any way, other than the fact that there are four quarters, people are tackled, the ball is oblong in shape, and if the ball is kicked through the uprights, points are scored. Beyond that, there's really nothing else relating the two sports other than name. The ball itself looks very similar to a rugby ball, which brings me to another point...Footy is massively popular in Victoria (the state of which Melbourne is the capital), whereas Rugby is the sport of choice in New South Wales (of which Sydney is the capital). I'm not sure on the reasons for that, it's just the way it is. To me, footy is ten times more interesting.

The game itself is played on cricket grounds, and a number of the matches take place at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (the MCG, or simply "The G"), and this is also where the Grand Final takes place (the Super Bowl for footy). The pitch is in the shape of an oval and is 180m in length (in US measurements, that's what we would refer to as a big ass field, y'all). There are eighteen players on the field from each team at once, with some sort of mixture of defenders and attackers (no goalies though). On opposite ends of the field are four posts, approximately as far apart from each other as a standard goal post you're accustomed to seeing in the US. The outer two posts are around two thirds the height of the inner two, and the object is to kick the ball between the inner two posts. If one is able to do this, it's a goal, and that player's team receives six points. If the ball goes between the inner and the outer posts (on either side), it's what's called a "behind", and the player's team receives one point. Anytime there is a score of any sort, the ball goes back to the center of the pitch and there's what essentially amounts to a jump ball for the next possession.

When a team gains possession of the ball, the objective is then to advance the ball as close as possible to their goal, and then attempt to kick the ball between the uprights for a goal. When advancing the ball, there are a few ground rules and regulations that must be followed. First, if you possess the ball, the other team has complete right to tackle you at any and all costs. When it becomes apparent that you are going to be tackled, it is your obligation to give up the ball (that is to say, one should not go to ground with the ball). The ball, however, can never be can only be kicked or hit (think an underhanded volleyball serve). Once the ball is in the air, there are no real rules around interfering with the person catching the ball, other than the limitation that one cannot tackle high (the face or neck). Other than that, pushing, shoving, tackling, grappling, etc., is all entirely legal. Also, keep in mind that no one is wearing any pads of any sort. It's a rough sport. If the ball carrier is in the open field, he cannot run with the ball more than ten meters without dribbling the ball at least once. Finally, when the ball is kicked or hit, if it is caught by a teammate, the teammate has two options: he can continue to advance the ball towards the goal, in which case he can be tackled immediately; he also can do what is called "taking a mark", where he would catch the ball and move backwards away from his goal, indicating that he doesn't intend to advance the ball. This prevents the other team from being able to tackle him, and he then can take a free kick. If he's close enough to his team's goal to attempt to score, he can do that. If not, he can simply kick the ball to a fellow teammate (the catching of which, of course, can be contested by the other team). Ideally, you continue to move the ball down the field until you get close, you take a mark, and you kick the ball through the two inner posts for six points. Of course, everything's not ideal. You do this for four quarters of 30 minutes a piece, and whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

The games themselves are a lot of fun, and the footy fans are very similar to college football fans in the South. They're die hard about their teams, and they're educated about the game. If they think the officials aren't calling the game right (there are a few times when there are penalties), they let them know it loudly, and if they think the player is holding onto the ball too long when he should be giving it up, you'll hear a loud chorus of "BALLLLLLLLLLLLL" from all around the stadium. Finally, if you're ever discussing what teams you pull for, the term in Australia is "barrack" for a team. You can get by with saying "pull for", "support", etc., but under no circumstances is "root for" an accepted term...the term "root" is a euphemism for something else in Australian english, so just know that you don't want people thinking that's what you mean. Personally, I barrack for the Richmond Tigers (or the Tigs - with a long i - as they're called by their supporters). I didn't really choose the Tigs, they were chosen for me by my boss...but I didn't really have a choice. They're a perennially bad team, but such is the hand in life at times. To me, it's more about the event and taking in the culture surrounding it (as well as having a sport to follow) than it is about the team least while I'm down here, of course. In closing, I'll leave all of you with a video showcasing the physicality of the game...and the next time you're up at four in the morning because of insomnia, don't turn the channel when you see Ozzy Rules Footy on ESPN2. Until next time...