Sunday, September 26, 2010

Apparently, Donovan McNabb Grew Up In Australia

Some might consider it unfair that I spend so much time making fun of Donovan McNabb. Not because he's a bad quarterback. He's not. In fact, he might just be a great quarterback and I was overjoyed to see that the Eagles traded him this offseason until I realized he would still be in the NFC East with the Redskins. No, his on-field skills are not to be argued. My mockery has come from an amusing incident two years ago when, after the Eagles tied the Bengals, McNabb admitted in a postgame press conference that he had no idea there were ties in the NFL.

This is, of course, patently ridiculous, but what you might not have known, and that McNabb perhaps did, is that not only are there ties in Aussie Rules Football, but they are, apparently, pretty pervasive. As McNabb opined, "I'd hate to see what happens in a Super Bowl ... if they settle with a tie." This was met with quite a bit of criticism because a) you should know the rules in the NFL if you're a perennial Pro Bowl quarterback and b) it is ludicrous to end the Super Bowl in a tie.

But that's not the rule down under. As I've mentioned more than once, over the last few years I have developed a big fandom for Aussie Rules over the past two years, and Friday night was the sport's big day, as Collingwood and St. Kilda met for the 2010 Grand Final. Bizarrely, and to protect how "unique" the championship game is, AFL rules actually stipulate that should the Grand Final end in a tie after regulation is finished, it will be ruled a draw and an entirely second Grand Final will be replayed a week later.

Leading up to Saturday morning's title game, only two Grand Finals had ever ended in a draw -- once in 1948 and once in 1977.

Well Saturday morning, AFL fans were treated to a wild championship bout, as St. Kilda rallied from 24 points down at half time leading to a frantic final few minutes. And when the dust settled, a lot of Magpies and Saints were kissing their sisters.

I am a big proponent of not judging a sporting culture I didn't grow up in, which is is why, among other things, I thought it was ridiculous when soccer fans called for the banning of vuvuzelas at this year's World Cup. Still, I can't help but think that this is a wholly bizarre quirk of the Australian sporting culture. The idea of ramping up and playing an entirely second, unplanned championship game replete with pregame entertainment, broadcast rights issues and ticket distribution is just a crazy concept, particularly when the Grand Final, which is played annually at the legendary Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of roughly 100,000 fans, has taken on Super Bowl-esque proportions.

Perhaps the eeriest part of this entire affair is that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard apparently saw it coming. Gillard, who has struggled in recent weeks to pull together a governing coalition after national elections turned in a hung Parliament, joked at the traditional Grand Final breakfast that the two teams could not return a draw because, "A week without a premiership football team - I'm not sure our nation's strong enough to take it."

After predicting something that unlikely, I'd like to take the Prime Minister with me to Vegas.

In any event, even if Australia isn't tough enough to take it -- because apparently they didn't spend this offseason in Arizona with the Collingwood footy club -- they're going to have to, and if the Grand Final ends in a draw 30 years from now they may have to again. For the time being, the head honchos of the AFL say the Grand Final replay is here to stay. And not everyone seems too happy about it. St. Kilda boss Ross Lyon, who I suppose can still claim a better result than a year ago when the Saints lost to (cough) the Geelong Cats in the Grand Final, said afterwards that he thinks there should simply be extra time tacked on to determine a winner. St. Kilda superstar Nick Riewoldt also thought the notion was peculiar while Collingwood captain Nick Maxwell went a step further, calling a replay an "absolute joke".

At least Geoff Ogilvy appreciated it.

One would think the outcry might prompt a comprehensive review of both the logic, the cost and the embarrassment of having a drawn Grand Final, but I imagine that issue will, for the time being, be tabled and discussed more thoroughly a few months down the line when heads have cooled. But in the interim this is just a strange, strange situation that millions of AFL fans in Australia and whichever ones persist elsewhere around the world will have to deal with. Let it not be forgotten, however, that for some of us there is a silver lining in all of this.

We get to watch more footy before the year is out. In the end, that ain't half bad.

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