US Sports : Must Try Harder

By Andrew Fraser


It’s official. Australian football remains the greatest game in the world.  A “fact-finding” mission to the United States confirms it.


America offers four contenders against our one true faith, one of which, baseball, we can dispense with at the outset.  The US State Department acknowledges 195 independent nation states on the globe but Major League Baseball runs a “World Series” from teams from only one country: its own.


Yes, baseball is a summer sport and so shouldn’t really come up against footy. But, while perfectly fine and wholesome per se, it can’t hold a candle to cricket either. That said, the “fact finders” took an off-season tour of Fenway Park, the home of the current champs, the Boston Red Sox, and found the locals do a nice line in romanticising not just their players, but their ball parks as well.


So, to the meat of this “definitive factual comparison”.  Basketball is on during the northern winter and our comprehensive assay took us to “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York City. Understated these guys, eh? The New York Knicks were to take on the Boston Celtics, but didn’t. The Celtics put on the first dozen points unanswered in the first three minutes and the course of the match was determined.


Play ran end to end and the only change was whether or not your mob’s shooters were on song.  Sure, there was some great athleticism and thinking, the hands and options from Carmelo Anthony chief among them, but we got 48 minutes of basketball across two and a half hours of entertainment. This was all very nice by way of cultural enlightenment, but shouldn’t the game be the thing?


Yes, there was some disputed possession and the rejections, when cleanly made, were spectacular, but, too often, there was only the interruption of fouls – not to mention the technical time-outs.


As the great one, Ronald Dale Barassi, says of soccer, so too we can ask of basketball, “Great skills. But where’s the physical threat?”


To American football, with our evidential sample coming from Metlife Stadium, soon to be the home of the “Superbowl” (there’s that understatement again).


Metlife used to be Meadowlands, and, yessir, it’s a coliseum rising out of the middle of nowhere in East Rutherford, a short train hop west of New York. Not quite that wonderful feeling of walking out of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and straight back into the heart of the city, but I digress.


New York Giants v Seattle Seahawks and, as Mike Vaccaro noted in the New York Post on New Year’s Day, New York teams this northern winter have got “as close to a mulligan as the law allows”. The Seahawks killed them.


Among the pluses: pinpoint passing (by one quarterback, anyhow), fantastic marking skills from the receivers and strength in triplicate from the rather large roosters on the line of scrimmage.  You can understand how it gets a following.

There is physicality. Indeed, at times too much, with six high-school footballers having died in the past year in the US.  There are tactics. They might not be immediately discernible to an untrained eye (and not dissected in the local papers, either, despite the acres devoted to the sport) but you can’t have that much cattle moving at that much speed without some sort of plan.


End-on was the best view to work out where the ball might go, rather than the side-on shots that dominate the TV coverage.  The downsides:  an off-side regime, predictability about what will happen on first and second downs (barging the ball up) and fourth downs (a punt to divest possession, or a field-goal shot). Only the third down seemed to offer potential for the all-important touchdowns.


It was OK, but daylight behind our indigenous game of physicality, free running, endurance and regular contests for possession – all done without the need for padding and timeouts.

Second place in the great winter-sports face-off goes to hockey. (Psst, don’t say “ice”; our version is “field hockey”).


Don’t worry about physical threat here. Our match, the New York Islanders losing to the Montreal Canadiens had physical promise, with two players trading blows on skates in the early minutes, even after one helmet came off and one man hit the deck. It was a blast from the past but, as my very proper travelling partners were quick to point out, no longer truly appropriate in a sporting contest.


Nonetheless, it brought the Long Island Memorial Coliseum alive with chanting and barracking in the style of Victoria or Princes parks in the good old days.  The physical checking was intense, the contest for possession was even more constant than footy’s and the speed was electric.


This is one good game, limited only by that padding (again) and, dare we suggest it, something of a lack of scoring, a la soccer.


And we must always remind those cocky Yanks that the Canadians have been doing it better for lots of years longer anyhow.


  1. I am envious of your ‘Boys Own Adventure’ to these US sporting meccas. The atmosphere and spectacle would make the games irrelevant for me.
    Have to agree with you about the primacy of Aussie Rules. Watched the last quarter of the Seahawks/49ers playoff game on Monday morning. The closeness made it interesting. But the timeouts and ad breaks meant that 15 minutes of play seemed to take 3 hours.
    Thanks for the post Andrew – you have made us all jealous.

  2. Sounds like you had enormous fun gathering the evidence.

  3. david butler says

    I share your love of AFL Douggy but you had to ruin a good article by having a crack at the true world game.

  4. OH dear, oh dearie me, Andrew.
    The World newspaper — yes that was its name — sponsored the end-of-season play-off between the 2 conference champion clubs of MLB.
    So, they’re not saying it’s the series to determine the top club on Planet Earth.
    it’s The World Series, formerly sponsored by the paper. just like The Sun Tour was the cycling tour of Vic.
    The name has been retained altho’ the paper has long gone.

    And B. Baulderstone — you’ll just have to suck it up. that’s how the NFL is played.
    Look 4ward to a 4-hour stint on the couch Mon. Feb 3rd for SuperBowl XLVIII.
    The Broncos for mine to down the Seahawks

  5. Marcus Holt says

    Richard, I’ve watched a bit of baseball, live (Let’s Go Mets) and on TV but have never heard that story on the origin of the “World Series”. If true, and I’m not doubting you, just never heard it before, it seems to have been conveniently confined to the dustbin of history by all and sundry Americans: Players/coaches/officials/commentators/fans. There’s no doubt that when they proclaim the winners as the “World Champions” they mean the World in the geographical/planetary sense. The Blue Jays presence in MLB being the slimmest possible evidence of it being anything other than an American entity. I think I’m right in saying that commentators similarly proclaim the Superbowl winners as “World Champions” with even less justification.

    Re. Superbowl XLVIII, I’ve been barracking for the Seahawks since the Giants went 0-6 to start the season but admit that Sherman’s ridiculous outburst, even by American standards, at the end of the game has me leaning back towards the Broncos.

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