Author Topic: Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"  (Read 440 times)

Offline Peter B

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Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"
« on: September 21, 2018, 11:18:23 AM »
Australian Rules football, or AFL, is a sport played pretty much only by Australians (and it's not even the most popular type of football in large parts of Australia). The teams playing this particular game tonight are both based in the working class heart of Melbourne. The venue is the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

And late in the second quarter of tonight's game, a large section of the 90,000-strong crowd started chanting, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

Because once again Mason Cox is having a blinder of a game.

Now AFL footy has a similar romantic attraction for many Australians that baseball does for Americans. The sport originated in Melbourne in the 1850s, a messy mixture of various versions of football then emerging in England, with the likely additional dash of a game played by local Indigenous Australians (look up Marngrook). The current competition started in 1897 as a suburban competition in Melbourne. And in the 120-odd years since then a lot of mythology has built up.

The game tonight was one of the season's two preliminary finals - like the winners of the AFC and NFC championship games in the NFL, the winner out of the Collingwood Magpies and the Richmond Tigers would go through to the championship game of the season, the grand final.

Not surprisingly, in a competition as stable and long-lasting as the AFL, there are plenty of club rivalries.

Collingwood is the team everyone loves to hate. Telling people you're a Collingwood supporter is usually an invitation to groans of varying levels of authenticity - yep, even people who don't really follow the AFL know that you're supposed to hate Collingwood supporters. They're like the AFL's version of Manchester United or the New England Patriots (but hey, I started supporting the Pats back in the early 1990s when they regularly finished last in their division and were an object of derision rather than hatred - hatred of Collingwood goes back literally decades).

Richmond by contrast generally doesn't generate much in the way of strong feeling. They'd won few grand finals in recent decades, and had generally finished in the bottom half of the competition each year.

As a result, the rivalry between Collingwood and Richmond was one of the lesser ones, simply because of Richmond's lack of success. But Collingwood supporters still remember the agony of the 1980 grand final, the last time the two clubs met in a finals match: it was a blowout, with Richmond winning by a then record margin for a grand final. It was, at the time, the seventh grand final the Magpies had lost since last winning a grand final in 1958 (they'd go on to lose the grand final again the following year, before eventually winning the 1990 grand final).

Roll on to 2018, and tonight the Tigers were huge favourites to win. They'd won last year's grand final with ease. They'd finished the regular season this year two wins ahead of the next best team (in a 22 game regular season), and with the best For and Against Points record of the competition. They won their first game in the finals series at a canter. No surprise they were favourites.

The Magpies were determined underdogs. They'd slid down the ladder in recent seasons, and the coach was under pressure to deliver results. The season started with two losses, and even when they won the coach expressed his frustration that they'd done so without following their plans. But eventually they started to rack up the wins, and by the end of the regular season they were in third place - high enough that losing in the first week of the finals provided a second chance. They took that chance, but winning meant facing a rampaging Richmond in the preliminary final.

Enter Mason Cox: 6 foot 11 inches of Dallas basketballer - and yes, that's Dallas, Texas.

Yep, the star for Collingwood in the first half was an American player, recruited back in 2014 on the strength of the basketball skills he'd displayed at Oklahoma State University. Spotted by an AFL scout, he was invited to an AFL draft combine in Los Angeles. Cox was already heading off to an engineering job he'd scored after graduating from university, but was intrigued about this invitation to try out a sport he'd never heard of.

To cut a long story short, Cox's results impressed enough of the right people in Australia that he was signed by Collingwood. And in 2016 he made his debut at the highest level of the game, playing for Magpies against rivals the Essendon Bombers in front of a crowd of over 85,000. He immediately earned the love of supporters by kicking the team's first goal in the game, a game they then went on to win. (And seeing as the clubs nickname, the Magpies, is often shortened to the Pies, it's not surprising that journalists started referring to Cox as "American Pie".)

Tonight, thanks to the whole of the Magpies team playing absolutely out of their skins, Richmond's typical dominance of the football field this season was completely reversed - late in the second half Collingwood had kicked 10 goals to Richmond's one, and the spearhead of the Magpie dominance was Cox, who had kicked three of his team's 10 goals. And in the minutes after Cox's third goal, Collingwood supporters changed their traditional chant of "Coll-ing-woo-ood!" to "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"

(And yes, Collingwood went on to win the game, end Richmond's title defence, and earn a place in the 2018 grand final.)

ETA: And in another of those little cross-code curiosities, former Philadelphia and Washington NFL punter Saverio Rocca developed his kicking skills playing in the AFL for Collingwood, helping open the door for the increasing flood of Australian punters in American football.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2018, 11:22:07 AM by Peter B »

Offline Obviousman

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Re: Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2018, 03:51:16 PM »
And today hopefully the Eagles will defeat the Demons to see an Eagles v Magpies grand final! Carn the Eagles!

Offline Obviousman

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Re: Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2018, 06:10:22 PM »
Yesssss! Eagles v Magpies for the grand final next weekend.

Offline Obviousman

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Re: Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2018, 03:35:31 AM »
And in case you didn't notice:

EAGLES
WINNER AFL PREMIERSHIP 2018!!!

Offline Peter B

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Re: Unusual place for a chant of "U.S.A.!"
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2018, 09:13:11 AM »
*sigh*

Okay, I can finally reconcile myself with the idea of writing something about this...

Yes, my beloved Collingwood lost the grand final, adding another chapter to the history of Colliwobbles: the term originates in the fact that after winning the 1958 grand final Collingwood lost eight grand finals (1960, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981) before finally winning another grand final in 1990. The club then lost grand finals in 2002 and 2003 before winning again in 2010 (and losing again in 2011).

And this year, despite leading for most of the game, Collingwood was finally overrun by West Coast only a few minutes before the final siren.

In one way, given the low expectations of the club for the season, even reaching the grand final was an achievement. But then, having made it, they blew a brilliant start.

And Mason Cox? He kicked two goals, one in the third quarter and one in the fourth. They could have been pivotal, but unfortunately he didn't quite have the impact in this game that he did in the previous week.

Oh well, I can always take consolation in the old Collingwood war cry: "There's always next season!"