Teams To Replay Aussie Rules Football Final After Tie

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This year's championship game in Australian Rules Football, the Grand Final, is being played for the second time this weekend. The rematch is only the fourth in the sport's history and was caused by a tie in the first game. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks to Robert Siegel about the basics of the game and the match up between these two teams.


In Melbourne, Australia, tomorrow, a hundred thousand fans are expected to fill a stadium to watch the Super Bowl of Australian rules football. It's called the Grand Final. This year, it's the second Grand Final. There's a re-match after the game last weekend ended in a tie. That hasn't happened in over 30 years.

Our regular Friday contributor Stefan Fatsis has fallen in love with the sport. He joins us to explain what's happening down under.

And, Stefan, first, give us a little background. How does one play Australian rules football?

STEFAN FATSIS: Apparently, with complete abandon and to total exhaustion. There are 18 players per team. The field is shaped like an oval. It's twice as long as an American football field, three times as wide. These guys wear tight-fitting cutoff jerseys, no pads. It looks like chaos to an American viewer -kind of like that old playground game kill the carrier.

The ball is shaped like a plumper American football. You can kick it. You can punch it. You can use other body parts to move it forward, but you can't throw it. And the object is to get the ball between various goalposts. The best flourish in the game, though, is the referees. When they signal a goal, it's like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: ...they're drawing two six-shooters out of their holsters.

SIEGEL: But very nattily dressed as they're doing that. So the Grand Final, this is a very big deal in Australia.

FATSIS: Yeah, the sport itself goes back to the mid-1800s, and it is steeped in tradition. My favorite - almost all the individual player awards are actual medals. One is the Brownlow Medal, and that goes to the fairest and best player. And it looks - and apparently is worn like a war medal on a team blazer. And teams have official songs that even the players sing in the locker room after games.

There's a week of festivities leading up to the Grand Final. They usually get big-name acts to perform, usually Australian. Tomorrow, though, it's going to be Lionel Richie, of all people. I guess it was a short notice for this...

(Soundbite of laughter)

FATSIS: ...second Grand Final.

SIEGEL: Yes. This is a rematch. Tell us about the game.

FATSIS: Well, the two teams are from around Melbourne, the Collingwood Magpies and the St. Kilda Saints. St. Kilda is sort of the beloved loser of Australian rules football, only one championship in its long history. Collingwood has 14 titles but none since 1990. And I'm told that if you're not a Pies fan, you're a Pies hater, sort of, I guess, like the Yankees here, the New York Yankees.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

FATSIS: The two teams played to a 68-to-68 tie last weekend. It was only the fourth time a Grand Final had ended in a draw. And this must be one of the last sports that doesn't decide a tied game in a championship with sudden death or extra periods.

Collingwood's captain called it an absolute joke that the teams would have to play again. And there was a lot of initial outrage, but that seems to have faded. Now it's just game on. And if they tie again, by the way, five minutes of extra time going each direction until somebody wins.

SIEGEL: Oh, they won't do it next week again?

FATSIS: No, no, no. They won't do it if they're done.

SIEGEL: Here in the U.S., the big game is going to be televised live.

FATSIS: Yeah, on ESPN. Coverage starts at midnight on ESPN Classic. And there's history here. Viewers who remember the early days of ESPN in the 1980s, they'll recall a lot of Aussie rules football. It was programming that filled air time, and it developed a cult following. As ESPN grew though, they showed less footy and other odd sports.

Last year, ESPN returned to Australian rules, signed a contract to show some matches online and a few on the networks.

SIEGEL: And it's possible, people watching that game on television just might be seeing an Australian player who could turn up in the NFL someday.

FATSIS: As a punter. And it wouldn't be shocking at all. There's been a migration of Australian rules players to the NFL in the last couple of decades. Currently, there are four Australian punters in the NFL, including two former Collingwood players.

And the influence is more than just looking for the next big leg. More NFL punters are actually adopting an Australian style known as the drop punt. You'll see the punter drop the ball with the nose almost straight to the ground, and he kicks it. And the ball rotates backward, end over end.

What I don't think we'll ever see in the NFL is a referee with his back to the field throwing the ball in like a bride tossing a bouquet to restart play, which is one of the ways they do it down there.

SIEGEL: Well, I guess your night is spoken for in that case.

FATSIS: It is. Well, thank goodness for DVR.

SIEGEL: Enjoy, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis talks with us about sports and the business of sports most Fridays on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(Soundbite of song, "Good Old Collingwood Forever")

THE FABLE SINGERS (Musical Group): (Singing) Good old Collingwood forever. They know how to play the game. Side by side, they stick together.


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