The Rugby World Cup was very disappointing for Irish supporters. We had beaten the All Blacks (New Zealand) twice out of the last three meetings. We hadn’t beaten them in our history before the first of those two wins. Ireland had a well-respected coach, and the team had performed well enough to be ranked number one in the world going into the tournament. However, the team never got going. They did not live up to their potential, losing to the host nation, Japan, before being well beaten by the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage. However, it wasn’t just the Irish team that was disappointing; I was disappointed with the game of rugby itself.
Although I have never played the game, I always enjoyed watching the Irish teams. I admired the skill and the physicality of the game. Players like Sean O’Brien, Paul O’Connell, and Keith Wood are national hero’s. Rightly so. I often remarked that they were “some men” or that they were “warriors.” And they are. While I favored GAA games and soccer, I had a strong appreciation of the oval ball game. I certainly believed that it was a superior game to American football. For starters, rugby players don’t wear helmets and padding, and rugby doesn’t have to keep resetting every ten seconds or thereabouts. Rugby was a much more fluid game with more action. It was just a better game in my mind. This view was confirmed by the very many Americans who seemed to be awestruck that the players play rugby without wearing protection. However, I was very much mistaken in this belief.
I have seen almost no rugby in the three years that I have been living in the United States. I have seen a lot of American football in that time. It is a fantastic game to watch both at the stadium and on television. After getting used to the Grid Iron game, rugby seemed very tame and slow by comparison. The first thing I noticed about American football is how fast it is. The players and the plays are lightning quick. Big, strong, powerful players are trying to outsmart each other in a game of strategy that has as many possible moves as a game of chess. It is just as much of a battle as rugby but far more strategic with faster and stronger players. I’m enthralled watching players making runs to get open for a pass or watching a running back find a well-constructed path through the opposition defense or seeing a quarterback get sacked because the defense has read his play. While I’m sure some rugby players could make the crossover to the NFL, it would be far fewer than I would have thought three years ago. The American footballers are tremendous athletes.
American football is a great game to watch at the stadium. The players get four chances to move the ball ten yards. If they don’t make the ten yards, they lose possession of the ball. Every third down for the away team, the home supporters are encouraged to make noise and “get loud,” while every first down for the home team also generates loud, enthusiastic cheers and high fives. Each play has an outcome that causes a reaction from the crowd. A touchdown. A completed pass. A completed rush. An interception. A fumble. I watched 49’ers quarterback, Jimmy G, send a whole section of the stand the wrong way with a dummy throw. The referees throw flags on the field to indicate a foul, and they inform the crowd about their decisions. Then there are the cheerleaders, the mascot and the DJ. There is always something happening. The first game I attended the Niners won with a last-minute touchdown. The DJ immediately played Sandstorm- a song from my youth- and the place went insane.
Rugby is easier to follow on TV rather than at the stadium, particularly when the ball is in a ruck; it can be difficult to see the detail of what is going on. All that is visible is a mass of bodies, and every so often, the ball would pop out until the players formed the next ruck. At least on TV, you can see the tackles and the moves in the ruck. Granted, the atmosphere at the stadium can be electric when it is a big game, but the atmosphere at American football can also be fantastic and is more constant and consistent. The NFL is also a perfect sport for TV. It lends itself very well to analysis, and TV can capture the drama of a football game better than most other sports. There is time to review each decision if needed.
I like rugby. The rugby players are great athletes, and they put their bodies on the line every time they play. My reaction is colored, no doubt, by Ireland’s disappointing performance. However, having got used to the speed and drama of American football, I would pick an NFL game over a rugby game any day of the week.