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Shepherd Express
I've come from the land Down Under. Actually, I've returned from Madison's Rennebohm Park after an arvo of cracking a few tinnies, playing some cricket with the gals from Queensland and taking a Captain Cook at a round of footy. And these Aussies think "we" talk funny.

Bombers Bring Footy to Milwaukee

Talking Sports - by John Shivers

 

 

I've come from the land Down Under. Actually, I've returned from Madison's Rennebohm Park after an arvo of cracking a few tinnies, playing some cricket with the gals from Queensland and taking a Captain Cook at a round of footy. And these Aussies think "we" talk funny.

 

Arvo is afternoon, tinnies are cans of beer and Capt. Cook means having a look-see. Footy is short for Australian Rules Football. You may recall the sport from its appearance on ESPN back in the 1980s and '90s. You may have also reasoned that footy action was a rough and tumble riot of collisions and mayhem, certainly not for the faint of heart.

 

This is where Paul O'Keeffe begs to differ. "I understand what [ESPN] was trying to do with those games," says the Milwaukee-based consultant for Accenture. "But they made it difficult to recruit players because most people just think of the wicked hits."

 

O'Keeffe and a few other transplanted Australians founded the USAFL (United State Australian Football League) in 1996. Just a few seasons later, the league has franchises in most major U.S. cities with over a thousand footy players. The Milwaukee Bombers are loosely affiliated with the Essendon Bombers of the AFL (Australian Football League).

 

It might seem odd for the Milwaukee-based club to play half of their games down the road in Madison until you discover that nearly half of the team are teachers and whatnot at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among them is player-coach Gary Hill who, when not plying his trade as an astrophysicist at the South Pole, brings his considerable experience to the Bombers. Hill also serves as the team's morale officer by hosting the post-game barbie at his Madison apartment.

 

If you think the Bombers seem like a charitable lot, you'd be right. Tickets for the games are non-existent. Simply show up at a Bombers game at either Rennebohm Park or Milwaukee's Kletzsch Park and you'll be among friends.

 

Chris Adams came to watch a game last year and had a bit of a shock. "They tossed me a jersey," says Adams, "and said, 'well, looks like you're gonna do more than that, mate.' " Adams aka "Cueball" (and yes, ladies, he does have the shaved pate and tattoo to match) has become a footy die-hard. "Once you get this game in your system," he explains, "it's hard to drag you off the field."

 

Steve Smith aka "The Rock" is another local who found the allure of footy overwhelming. So how did Smith earn his nickname? "We were in a tournament in Kansas City and I got a bit ill," reveals the burly fullback. The Rock proceeded to "take a chunder" (no translation needed) on the field but remained in the game.

 

Still, Smith believes that footy has been a very healthy undertaking for him. "It got me to quit smoking," he says, adding "170 yards (the length of the footy field) is a mighty long ways to run."

 

The aforementioned gals from Brisbane are part of a college exchange program between Marquette University and the University of Queensland. The group is leaving at the end of July and some of the ladies opted to forego the Bombers for some much needed studying before exams. Still, Tiffany, Susan, Sara and Sonia-who claims to be a huge fan of the North Melbourne team-are all quite taken by the Americans trying to play their native sport.

 

If it seems as if U.S. Footy is organized as more of a local club sport-much like soccer in the U.K.-it's intentional. "Soccer in the U.S. made two major mistakes," opines O'Keeefe. "They tried to establish themselves as a rival to the four major American sports and in doing that, they failed to build a local following."

 

O'Keeffe is also the brains behind U.S. Revolution, an All-Star team of U.S. Footy players that plays in international tournaments. While he has no expectations of rivaling American football in popularity nor in competing directly with the professionals Down Under, O'Keeffe does have a distant vision for U.S. Footy. "My dream is that someday, an AFL team will think enough of our players to recruit some of them to play (in the big leagues)."

 

In the meantime, the Bombers have another game left this Saturday in Madison before traveling to yet another tournament. For more info on the Bombers, check their Web site at www.milwaukeebombers.com or the USAFL site at www.usfooty.com.

 

Oh yes, they offered this columnist an opportunity to "avago" at footy whilst insisting that I sample a bit of vegemite. Tastes like beef bullion, which is a mite loony since it's made of yeast. G'day.

 

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