Odyssey of USA Saint

It all started at a bus stop 36 years ago. Little things beget big things. At that bus stop, I met my future wife on a double blind date when the pairing was determined by who boarded a bus first (she chose not to).

Then in the early 80s, we could only afford to send me to a close friend’s wedding in California. So I came back with a stuffed otter – which started her otter collection. A few years later, we went back to California and my wife bought a better camera to take photos of the otters – which led to a photography hobby since filled with awards, published photos, some weddings and events on the side.

Change the scene to a friend’s house in the mid-80s. We’d put the newspaper to bed around 12 every Saturday night and wind down for a couple of hours watching the late night comedies and pro wrestling. Except for one night when we switched to ESPN – and happened upon this odd game with tackling and kicking and leaping, strange terminology and huge scores.

I had to find out more. That’s kind of what I’m about – I love the exotic, the unusual. So I started watching the weekly one-hour highlights package, learning what I could in those pre-internet days about the teams and players. I still have the 1984-89 Grand Finals on video, taped live in the wee hours of a September Friday night.

Still it was kind of a secret crush. Secret until I moved to a bigger paper in Louisville, Ky., and started working with John, who was a sports clerk, answering phones and taking game scores. Another “secret” footy fan, we discovered. We figured out how to listen live to AFL games late Friday and Saturday nights on the computer at work; he wrote away and got us both into a tipping comp.

I was content to watch the cable highlights and listen some late nights; John was so consumed that he started one of the first American teams in the mid-90s. He wrote to all of the AFL teams, and because Geelong supplied Sherrins and guernseys and sticks and flags and rule books – it became the Louisville Cats.

But John became a Carlton fan because a couple of the expats on the Louisville team barracked for the Blues – and then he traveled to Australia and the bond was cemented. And then I needed a team of my own. But who? Had to be an underdog with a loyal fan base. And I had one chance to make it right. No switching around. That’s also kind of who I am.

Oh, I did the research into histories and Melbourne neighborhoods and fan bases and traditions. Where would I have lived if I’d grown up in Melbourne? Who would I have wanted to follow? Whose fans might I feel most comfortable with?

The wheel spun red, white and black. One premiership in 100-plus years, sealed on a single point kicked from a scramble in the closing minute. Great players, loyal fans, tons of heartbreak. My kind of team.

John and I had lots more to talk about; he’d bemoan the antics of Brendan Fevola — and I would wonder about coaching upheaval and how good all our youngsters were. And we’d share a dislike of the Pies.

And then John was gone – stunningly so; an unexpected cancer diagnosis followed two days later by a massive stroke. He was just 36 and was buried in a blue suit and a Carlton scarf. Damn.

That was eight years ago. The first moment I felt lost. The second I knew I’d be a footy supporter for life. So I trolled my fantasy golf leagues for fellow footy fans. I found Peter in Melbourne – he’d played many years ago with the South Melbourne reserves and remains a Swans fan. He introduced me to his friend Craig – a lifelong Collingwood supporter. No matter. From there I found AFANA, the U.S. group that lobbies for TV coverage, and more footy friends.

And cheering for the Saints is strangely addictive. The defeats are painful and often crushing, the victories often impossibly sweet, the scandals distressing, many players endearing.

After more than a decade I know my history; I felt a pang of sadness at Allen Jeans’ passing last week – and Darrel Baldock last February – even though both are before my footy time. I have seen the frantic final minutes of the 1966 Grand Final and other key Saints moments of long ago.

I watch them weekly – all games are available live (and on video) in the States. I play Dream Team and Super Coach (in Craig’s leagues) and tip; read the Age and Herald Sun online; watch footy shows available on the internet.

We finally made it to Australia two years ago – five days with Peter and his wife in the north suburbs, five days with other friends in Adelaide. We drove the Great Ocean Road between. And we saw a blowout win at Etihad over Freo.

I watched the 2009 Grand Final at a party in Chicago with about 30 others – half American, half Aussie. I have last year’s drawn Grand Final on DVD – where it likely will stay unwatched until the Saints win it all. I am an international member.

Last winter I purchased my first Footy Almanac, and after reading it – cover to cover — I knew I had to be a part of your community. I’ve written all my life – mostly occasional newspaper articles (I supervise our sports copy desk) – but also journals and stories. So here I am. But I didn’t want to start commenting without revealing.

The year has brightened for the Saints, though a game or two of finals appears to be the realistic limit after all the injuries and upheaval. Right now, one game at a time.

The past two near-miss years have been difficult, but it’ll come when it’s meant to be. Heaven can wait, as they say. But now Carlton have come back and may well win it all soon. You can be sure I’ll be watching. I’d like to think John is, too. And we’ll celebrate together.


About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.


  1. John Butler says

    Welcome abroad Glenn!

    Consider yourself revealed. :)

  2. Paul Daffey says

    Wonderful story, USA Saint.

    I’ve always wanted to go to Louisville.

    Did Cassius Clay and Hunter S. Thompson come from there?

    A nice one-two combination.

  3. Andrew Fithall says

    You are from the US. You have come lately to Australian football. You do your due diligence to arrive at a team to support. You sound like a very rational being. Yet you dislike the Pies. Somehow you have been mislead. Collingwood – players coaches supporters and everyone else with any association – is very likeable. Even the non-Collingwood people who frequent this website might pretend otherwise but they all secretly admire us; and want to be us.


  4. Dave Nadel says

    What Andrew said.

  5. Rick Kane says

    Welcome aboard Glenn, you had me at “And we’d share a dislike of the Pies.” Oh yeah, you know your footy.

    Looking forward to the American perspective of God’s own game.


  6. Andrew Else says

    Great, great story. I’m looking forward to more.

    We had a 19 year old New Yorker for a couple of weeks this year. Have also got a Canadian in the clubbies. Great to hear a North American accent talking about the half back flank.

  7. Glenn Brownstein says

    Andrew F. and Dave,
    I have since graduated from a dislike of the Pies — and all that surrounds them — to delighted bemusement. How much less colorful and fascinating footy would be without all the soap opera — Mick and Nathan, Heath and Nick (and Didak before that), Eddie in the midst of it all.

    And I’ve been in fantasy footy leagues run by Craig — my Collingwood friend — and populated by mostly Pies fans for three years now. And we all coexist happily and competitively.
    So I come in with no pre-conceived notions. Just an intention to add my .02 (US) from time to time.

    And Paul, yes, we can claim Mr. Clay/Ali — we have a museum in town dedicated just to him — and Hunter S. And throw in Tom Cruise and Col. Sanders, among others. An interesting cast of characters. And a fun city.

  8. Welcome aboard Slugger!

    There are a few of us around, who I’m sure will introduce themselves later. We are a bit quiet this year following a few years of heartbreak, scandal and injury to key players. But the spirit is still there, just waiting for the eternal hope to rekindle the typing fingers.

    I also came to the Saints with “due diligence”. Based on the fact I liked the red white and black, (with the black over the heart!), when my local footy team in Brisbane had not taken their colours from a VFL team. They were known as the Bulldogs, so that was a possibility, although I went for the black rather than blue. Clearly less due diligence than yourself, although a more than adequate investigation.

    It seems I am the first Sainter to awake this morning. And I’m in Abu Dhabi…

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Glenn,

    always enlightening to read a perspective from a different culture. Look forward to read more from you.

  10. Skip of Skipton says

    Welcome brother. Those free Sherrins and guernseys and sticks and flags and rule book weren’t just a missionary gesture of good will, they were an or omen for you. A harbinger of the coming of the Cats. O ye of little faith! Barrack for St. Kilda if you must. Better them than the Adelaide Suns or West Coast Giants I s’pose.

    P.S. The Kentucky Derby is on my Bucket List (any meeting at Churchill Downs, really), can I crash your pad?

  11. I think it’s time for you to read the Jack Irish novels, Glenn.

  12. Dear Glen B,

    welcome to the world of Footy Almanac. My first article this time last year was what I wrote in a hotel room in San Franscisco, about watching Aussie rules on my computer, and I haven’t stopped since. I’ll write to you tomorrow with details of the site my brother Andre uses in the States, at it’s $10 a month and you can get all games on it. So I use it when I travel during footy season.

    On top of that, I’m a mad Sainter as well, and look forward to having another one on site to share the hopes and dreams.

    Lovely first article and I feel we know you already.

    Go Sainters


  13. David Downer says

    Great yarn Glenn.

    As a Sainter I’ll be accused of obvious bias, but I love the ingredients you considered before launching into support for a foreign code. I do similar when weighing up who deserves my affection in various leagues and sports around the world – invariably it tends to get back to colours (er, red, white and black preferred), or are perennial strugglers with the odd brilliant individual along the way, and maybe just one historic championship/cup to boot. The Saints moniker helps as does a southerly-based posting – think New Orleans Saints and Southampton in the UK.

    A fellow Sainter mate is now LA-based and flew back for the GF’s in ’09 and ’10, escaping back the day after. The further away from Melbourne, the media exposure, and littany of Collingwood liftouts and “special edition blah blah” the better. Chicago sounded like a great location post-final siren in 2009!

    I’d encourage you to watch the second half of the drawn grand final. There are some really heroic football acts and brilliant St Kilda moments to enjoy from Hayes and Goddard. Sure there is the ultimate pain of missed opportunities (and the calamity of the next week), but we Sainters have to enjoy what we can get!

    Please loiter around the almanac site often, I look forward to more Saintly perspective from afar.

  14. Glenn Brownstein says

    I haven’t watched the drawn Grand Final since it was played. But I am reminded of it daily — my desktop computer wallpaper is Goddard’s iconic mark near the end. And so it shall stay.

    And Skip, I can’t get you tickets to the Derby, but if you’re ever in Louisville, look me up. The Churchill meets are late April-July 4 and late October-late November. We have our Thanksgiving dinner every year at the track, which is a Louisville tradition for many folks.

  15. johnharms says

    G’day Glenn

    I must say your article has given me a real buzz. Really enjoyed reading it.

    Love that footy is celebrated far and wide.

    I look forward to hearing more.


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