By Zach Walker
In a global sports industry, every country has its own specific game that they’re proudly playing. The UK is known for its football roots, Canadians love skating on their ice hockey rinks, while the US and Australia are famous for their strength-based football/rugby.
Australian rugby and American football
The two sports in these countries are basically similar with some minor differences. For example, American football is played with full-on head casks and soft pads on various joints of the player’s body; the Australian rugby had none of that – the players go into the pitch completely unprotected. It’s not the only difference between the two games but the similarity is more prominent – the shape of the ball, the pitch, the basic rules, etc.
Because of this similarity, there have been many instances where players from the two sports changed their codes and moved either to the US or Australia. But since American football and its NFL are far more popular and widely acclaimed, there have been more instances of Australian rugby and football players swapping their codes for the NFL.
Now, since the NFL is so popular in the world, and certainly in Australia, the latter has internalized this condition and is doing everything to promote its native players. The country’s one of the most popular sports betting operator Tabcorp has even closed a deal with the NFL. As a result, the sports betting company remains the one and only rightful operator and bookmaker of bets on the NFL games in Australia.
Code-swapping practice in Australia has deep roots. The first-ever Australian who has played in American football was an ex-Australian football star Pat O’Dea back in 1898. Since then, almost 30 different Australian sports players – including rugby league, rugby union, and more similar, Australian football stars – have participated in various NFL leagues.
Australians in Dallas Cowboys
And when it comes to Dallas Cowboys, America’s one of the most popular and professional football teams, there have been four punters and other position players from Australia. Chronologically speaking, the first Australian to play not only in this team but also in the NFL was Colin Ridgway. But that’s not the only special thing about him: Ridgway’s seven-foot leaps made him famous across the country which brought him a track-and-field scholarship to Lamar Tech back in the day.
The next player on this list is Mat McBriar. He was recruited in Dallas Cowboys in 2004 while before that he played in the Australian rules football. Since then, he has been a top player in three different clubs: Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers in different periods.
Next up, Tom Hornsey. Hornsey’s career took off in Australian rules football in 2008. In 2014, he was recruited by Dallas Cowboys as a top punter. But before that, Tom was already pretty popular in the American college football; he was even awarded a Ray Guy Award – a Division I award presented to the top punters – in 2013.
Wayne Carey was another Australian rules footballer who was rumored to have been trialed by Dallas Cowboys in 2002. However, his management explicitly denied this claim shortly after.
Long-lasting careers in NFL
As mentioned above, apart from those 4 Dallas Cowboys players, there were almost 30 Australians playing in NFL leagues over the years. American football was much more exciting and rewarding to them considering how long-lasting their careers could have been there: in Australian football, players retire when they reach the age of 30 while in the NFL, they can push this limit for ten more years.
NFL is also interested in Australian football, rugby league, and rugby union players since they have proven that as punters, their playing technique can far outweigh others’. Therefore, the organization has established a professional punter academy in the country, training Australian players specifically for the American leagues.