Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Superbowl Meets the Pacific

Alas, the past two weeks alternately escaped me and attempted to throttle me, and so I apologize for the unforeseen silence. However, a side benefit of the absence means I have many posts swirling around in my head that I’d love to share with you, so stay tuned!


Last Sunday, I watched the Superbowl. Well, most of it anyway… and whether I comprehended what I saw or not is another story. Especially when I typically can’t find the ball until after the play is complete and the announcers kindly draw arrows for us football-challenged people. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever even watched a full football game via TV, but I keep trying with valiant and heroic effort in an attempt to identify better with the hordes of people who are fascinated by this sport (including my mother).

As far as I can remember, I’ve only sat through a live football game once, my first semester of my freshman year at college. I did play a version of football once… but it was the kind that makes super-athletic-ball-coordinated girls cringe and guys just laugh. This “flamingo football” required the gentleman from my brother hall to hop around on one foot while the girls from my hall ran around the field like confused chickens. Two of the guys felt sorry for us and defected to our team (still hopping on one foot), finally resorting to calling out commands like “run to the other side!” and “tackle him!!” so that we would have some direction. The guys still won.

While Americans are fascinated with football, I’ve been learning that Papua New Guineans are entranced by rugby. My first encounter with this sport was watching Matt Damon hurl himself across the silver screen in Invictus.

It did not seem terribly pleasant.

Injuries are not uncommon after a game of rugby...
But rugby is PNG’s unofficial national sport, and Papua New Guineans have a reputation for being the most passionate supporters of the game in the world. The goal of rugby is like the goal of American football—a team of players try to move the ball from one end of the field to the other in order to gain the most number of points. Unlike American football, however, this full contact sport occurs without  protective helmets, no shoulder pads, no white tights... just mud and manliness, I suppose.

One of the more distinctive plays that separates it from American football is the scrum, where the opposing teams lock arms and heads together until they are a moving mat of players skittering back and forth as the ball is kicked out of the huddle by their feet!

Papua New Guinea plays in the Rugby League and is currently ranked 6th in the world. The team is known as the Kumuls, named after PNG’s national bird, the Bird of Paradise, and top players are treated as celebrities. According to the ever-reliable ;) Wikipedia: 
“The team usually plays against the Australian national rugby league team each year in Port Moresby [PNG's capital city]. It is such a popular fixture that thousands of people can't get into the ground once its full, causing people to climb onto the stadium roof or up trees outside the ground in order to see the match. The limited capacity of the stadium for this fixture often sparks riots.”
Maybe I’ll be sticking to my flamingo football :-)