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Swans Head to Dublin

Swans Head to Dublin

This past weekend the boys headed over to Dublin, OH for the USAFL Nationals Tournament.  Four divisions of 6 teams and a women’s division rounds out the carnival with Clubs from as far as North as Calgary and the Squids in the South.

The Swans headed down there with a reasonable amount of confidence with solid wins over Nashville, Ohio Valley & an admirable loss to the Freeze in the lead up to the 2 day carnival.

The Red & Whites travelled with a squad of 23 and were pretty confident of a positive start to the carnival first up with a noon game against our rival, and Division Premier last year, Columbus Jackaroos.  The home team were always going to be hard to beat.  While the scoreline shows that we were beaten, it wasn’t without chances, and in 40 minutes of football you have to make the most of your chances.

A couple of marks in the forward line may have resulted in goals and this could have made the world of difference, but instead Revo half back, Chet was able to thwart a lot of our forward thrusts.  We did go down swinging but to no avail. We had a number of individual performances that were really pleasing.

Brad Ross on the wing had a stellar game, Webby was asked to step up and play center half back for the Tournament and his first game was superb.  Mike Panek was his usual reliable self.  Cliffy came in for his first Nationals with the Swans and fitted in very well, there is no frills with Cliffy, just hard at it honest football. Additionally, nationals newbie, Tommy ‘Sherman Tank’ Shearman was firing on all cylinders and providing some much needed grunt in the middle.  Woody was our sole goal kicker for the game, taking a fine mark and goaling after the half time siren.

Game 1 – Saturday @ Noon
Swans 1.1.7
Columbus 4.6.30

Goals: Woody
Best: Panek, Tommy, Brad Ross, Pony, Cliffy, Webby

Our next challenge was against unknown side, Houston Lonestars.  There was nothing lonely about their game, they were a tall group of athletic lads, and really rolled over the top of us, all too easily.  Our shining light from that game was the continued good form of Pedro.  He has impressed all year, and will look to see him polling well in this year’s MVP award.  With a scoreline like this, you would expect the back line to feature heavily in best player awards.

Once again Webby played really well, and interestingly enough, his soul mate, Danny showed us some glimpses of the sort of footy he has shown of his potential. Pony continued to battle but around the ground he was often left to do the ground work with some second efforts almost non existent.

This was quite a disappointing game for the Swans as I don’t believe we have ever been beaten that comprehensibly in a Nationals game.  We all recognized as a group that this was not the way the Swans play, and Rich Noty would have had a sleepless night knowing that we had one game on the Sunday morning to make amends.

Game 2 – Saturday @ 5pm
Swans 1.2.8
Houston 10.6.66

Goals: Stu
Best: Webby, Pedro, Pony, Joe, Danny, Stu

Dinner on Saturday was not as jovial as it could have been, however the food and Oxford Landing wine was really good at Mezzo, somewhat taking our minds off the days events.  The ball sat squarely in the lads court in the final game against, a once powerhouse Boston Demons.

The determination and will to get to the contest and tackle was a pleasure to see on Sunday morning on a dewy track. Boston burst out of the blocks and had 2 goals on the board before we had travelled past our own half forward.  To the boys credit they stood up and basically said this is our game and were gonna fight for it.  And fight for it they did.  Danny Yunes continued on from the 5 o’clock game against Houston to play a quality and valuable game for the Swans.  Panek took quite a few marks playing that kick behind play that he does so well.  Pedro has gone from strength to strength this year, and has really become one of the club leaders, recognized with being named, vice captain for the tournament.

It was really good to have the footy smarts of the junkyard dog, Joe on board for the tournament and his game against Boston was valuable.  Gambol who battled hard all weekend, took a couple good marks and was able to nullify his opponent.

Pony played an uncustomary role in the second half, giving us some much needed height at center half back, he played this role very good and even managed to kick a goal.  New the club Stu Nicol, made a special request to play back pocket, but coach Hendrie recognized pretty early on in the piece that he likes nothing more than to kick goals, his two goals proved to be the difference in the two sides, with Boston managing just one point in the second half.

Game 3 – Sunday @ 9am
Boston 2.2.14
Swans 4.2.26

Goals: Pony, Al, Stu 2
Best: Pedro, Panek, Joe, Gambo, Danny, Stu

Full credit to the squad that pulled on the jersey this weekend, we didn’t make the final but we did manage to come out Sunday morning and prove to ourselves and the supporters that came out to watch that we can play big city ball.  Let’s harness that energy and bring it back next year.

Our next event is Red & White night, where we recognize the individual efforts for the year.  Pedro would have to be in the hunt for MVP this year, Stu will have a big say in the Al MacGlashan goal kicking award this year, and who will win best first year and most improved?  All will be revealed in four weeks time.

Chicago Swans Roll the Ohio Valley River Rats

Chicago Swans Roll the Ohio Valley River Rats

Another glorious Saturday afternoon at Waveland saw the Chicago Swans seeking another win at home in consecutive weeks. Their opposition Ohio Valley River Rats, a combined squad of Cincinnati, Louisville & St Louis. Unfortunately one of their guys had a wedding and so headed up with 14 players. Big thanks to a 4 of our lads volunteering their services, to help even up the numbers, Frank, Nolan, Allan, & Tyler Dorsett pulling on the opposition jersey; full credit to them! Drakey turned back the clock and put on his dusty old boots for a crack at the visiting side.

The Swans had been working hard in recent weeks to go out hard early and were able to get off to an early lead in the first quarter with some straight kicking, leading by 19 point at the first break. The River Rats kicked just the solitary goal, but could have easily been a couple more, if it hadn’t been for the Swans defense being rock solid, led by Tommy Shearman and Eric ‘Mac’ McLimore, once again two players leading from the front. In the middle, Drakey, Hoyt, Alistair Martin, & Pedro who seems to be in the middle of a purple patch; great form that we hope he can carry into Nationals.

More of the same in the second kicking three straight to extend the half time lead to 30 points. Stu was creating some nice plays in the forward half and even picked up a couple goals for his troubles. Sammy and Joel were also chiming in with some hard work in the forward line and had it been for some straight kicking would have rewarded themselves for that good work.

The third quarter was pretty tight, with the Swans boys missing a couple golden opportunities, winning the quarter by just 3 points. Mike Panek took a spell off the ball in the third, Sammy came into the middle and after a few minutes getting acclimatized began to find the ball with ease. Tommy Shearman came into the middle in the second half and began to make an immediate impact. The Dockers had two fine players in the middle, Jack, who played for the Revos last month in Australia in the International Cup & Cookie both carried the grunt work for the visitors all day, they continued to be a thorn in our side.

The flood gates opened in the last with Big Al running riot in the last to bring his game tally up to 5 majors. Straight kicking throughout the day saw the Swans run out comfortable winners on the day by 63 points. The defense continued to send the ball into attack, with Joe the Junkyard, & Alistair Martin tireless back there. Brad C moved into attack and took some telling marks and selflessly gave away a couple goals he could have kicked himself.

It was a pleasing victory in as many weeks and a good workout in the lead up to Nationals in October. Next week is a massive game and one that we always look forward to. Minnesota will be at full strength and the Swans will need to be on top of their game next week to topple The Freeze.

Swans
4.1.25 3.0.18 2.4.16 6.2.38 15.7.97

Dockers
1.0.6 1.1.7 2.1.13 1.2.8 5.4.34

Goals: Al 5, Stu 2, Alistair Martin 2, Tommy 2, Hoyt, Brad C, Sam, Joe
Best: Pedro, Mac, Al, Joe, Tommy Shearman, Alistair Martin, Sammy, Tommy

Swans Topple Roos to Win Back Wayne Schwass Cup

Swans Topple Roos to Win Back Wayne Schwass Cup

What a perfect afternoon for footy down at Waveland it was on Saturday. Chicago playing their first home game of the season against our arch nemesis, the Nashville Kangaroos. The Roos have been very solid for the past few years, the Swans would go back a long way to remember their last win against them! Playing for the Wayne Schwass Cup always adds additional spice to this game, this was a big game for the Swans. While The Swans had been competitive in the past couple years, we had struggled to reward themselves for effort.

Start time was pushed to 5:30pm as the field was fully booked; the game was actually played in perfect conditions. While The Swans had not been able to get their best side on the park for quite some time; they were finally confident that today was going to be the day, at least on paper it appeared this way.

Pony Boy was fresh back from the Revo assault in the International Cup in Melbourne. As a side note, the Revos played extremely well and we’re very well served in the ruck with our very own Pony Boy, Alex Wallace played very well against Finland until his Revo campaign came to an end with shoulder problems, congratulations boys!

So the Swans had a squad of 23 going into the game, Nashville came up to Chi-town with the bare minimum of 16 players, so it was decided we would play 14 a side. Given the size of Waveland, 14’s or 16’s are well suited.

The first quarter was a torid affair with no side able to gain the ascendency. Luke Nemeth was working hard for the Kangaroos as was Pedro for the Swans. But it was the defence that proved the stumbling block for the Kangaroos; Frank & new comer Brad Clifton continually thwarted their attacking forays, ‘Mac’ McLimore & the junk yard dog, Joe Swierupski back wearing the Swans jersey after a lengthy break through injury. Something to be genuinely excited about is ‘Mac’ who plays like a man possessed, his grunt at half back was a pleasure to watch, keep an eye on this player, expect big things. The red and white went into quarter time leading by a straight kick.

Both sides began to find targets inside the forward area in the second quarter. Another tough quarter with the Roos beginning to land a few body blows, something the Swans knew they had to be aware of when playing the Roos. The only way to play against sides like this is to hurt the, on the scoreboard and that is exactly what the Swans did, rounding out the second quarter with 3 goals to 2, going into the long break, 13 points clear.

Certainly not a match winning break. The message at the break was to regroup snd begin from scratch start, continue on with the blocking, shepherding and link up team work, that had been a feature of the Swans game in the first two quarters.

The third quarter began slowly for the Swans, and things looked ominous with the Roos jumping out of the gates to take the lead halfway through the third. And then all of a sudden it was the Woody & Seano Show the duo proved no match for the inexperienced Kangaroo back line. Dougy & Pony got a sneaky ones and this all but knocked the wind out of the Kangaroo sail.

The last quarter was one way traffic with the red & white lads lining up to kick a goal. Gloves chipped in for one of his trademark ‘soccer’ goals, one that Ronaldo would have been proud of. A couple of lads ran into open goals, and should have really rubbed salt in the wound.

Some really tremendous efforts all around the ground which was pleasing from a coaching point of view. Pedro played a blinder and hope this is a sign of things to come, Frank was the glue that held the back line together, I already mentioned Mac who is an excitement machine, he has a bright future with the Swans! Pony Boy had no competition in the ruck, and when they did, they message was just to take the body, sadly for them Pony was always one step ahead. Russ was understandably a bit rusty but his hands are always going to be a huge benefit late in the game when a big mark is needed.

The forward line functioned very well with Seano bagging 4, and Woody his able assistant threading 3 through the sticks when the game was there to be won! Hoyt battled well all day, and Tommy Shearman completely nullified their big forward.

A really fantastic win for the Swans who finally get some reward for effort, and one that should give us some good momentum into next weeks Sponsors game against Ohio Valley River Rats. Training has been really good of late, albeit light on numbers, but has been really energetic and clearly some of the boys are getting into their fitness groove before Nationals, which is only 5 short weeks away. Some of the blokes clearly need to work on their fitness, and of course there is no time like the present.

Swans 1.2.8 3.3.21 4.4.28 4.3.27 – 12.11.83
Roos 0.2.2 2.2.14 3.1.19 1.1.7 – 6.6.42

Goals: Seano 4, Woody 3, Pony 2, Brad, Dougy, Gloves
Best: Pony, Seano, Russ, Mac, Frank, Pedro,

2014 AFL Grand Final

2014 AFL Grand Final

Who will raise the trophy?

The AFL finals are underway with eight teams fighting it out to lift the AFL premiership cup on the last Saturday in September. You don’t need to fly to Australia to watch the game. The Chicago Swans and Brownstone Tavern are once again throwing the greatest AFL Grand Final party in the midwest.

The night kicks off at 9pm on Friday, 26th September 2014 at the Brownstone Tavern. $20 entry includes food and drink specials all night, chances to win over $1000 in cash and prizes and the AFL Grand Final televised LIVE!

Purchase tickets below ($20 per person):





During the game we also have a Squares competition with prizes drawn every quarter. Proceeds of the squares competition goes towards the club for help with the expenses of running the club – permits, equipment, travel etc. So purchase a square or two and be in the running for some great prizes and support the club at the same time!

https://www.superbowlsquares.org/p3b33/
Username : Swans
Password : Footy

Aluminum Swan: A Painful Introduction to Australian Rules Football

Aluminum Swan: A Painful Introduction to Australian Rules Football

John was all by himself. He had his own small verdant bubble in the hill endowed—and this is a big thing in Chicago, a hill!, and in the Pool Table Metropolis, no less—bucolic expanses of Lincoln Park playing fields which spreads, as damselfly wings, from Montrose Avenue, a pretty little rolling jewel, an edenic cushion for the dusty, still golden-toothed skull of Uptown to rest on, his lime green shirt echoing the incandescent centipedes of lightning flashing between the city’s northern skyline, and he was kicking into the air … something, a fat little alien ball apart from the other implements rolling or sailing about.

It was pleasingly buxom in shape, like a football had been subjected to gavage, the traditional nose points of the gridiron’s prolate spheroid softened and the whole thing a lava red that completed the whole swollen football look, and John was taking a few half-speed steps, dropping it down onto his foot as a cigarette butt, and giving it a quick, clean snap of a kick—the kind wherein the knee ends up only slightly ahead of its non-kicking counterpart, the power coming from the abrupt stop of the forward momentum and the quick swing at the knee’s pivot, the tibula and fibula and foot as little flail—that saw the fat tick of a ball spiraling end over end, like an uncorked punt, and John ran it down, flashed over there in his neon, and kicked it again.

The ball goes up over and over again, a maritime distress flare on Montrose Harbor, and it occured to me that I was most likely the only other person currently in the park who not only knew what he was looking at, but would respond to it as well. John was kicking the ball used for Australian rules football—hereafter referred to, at the author’s discretion, as Aussie rules, footy, Australian football, or AFL—and as he unknowingly lofted yet another signal, I made my way in his direction.

***

First things first: Aussie rules is not soccer. Australia, like Canada and the United States, refers to association football as soccer—it should be noted, by the way, that this means “soccer” may be the numerically superior name of the game among English speakers, an interesting thought for those who insist on calling it football over here—nor is it rugby. It is, however, something of a chimera, mixing elements of the less parochial football codes, even with slight glimpses of our own gridiron iteration.

According to introductory materials from the Australian Football League (AFL; sometimes the sport is even referred to by the league; it’d be like you and your friends going out to play some touch NFL), the game originated in 1858, when cricketer Thomas Wentworth Wills invented the sport as a way for fellow cricket players to stay in shape during the winter.

Wills’ game is contested on circular ovals—a vestigial element, one imagines, from its cricket-oriented origins—between two sides of 18 players a piece. The oval is divided into three pieces, with two 50 meter arcs designating the team’s respective attacking/defensive zones, which contain four sets of posts. Two of these, centrally located and 21 feet apart, are the goal posts, which are flanked by smaller behind posts.

A goal, worth six points, is scored whenever a player kicks the ball through the opposing team’s goal posts; the ball can sail through, or bound, roll, and bounce, but it must have originated from the foot of the attacking team and it must pass through the posts untouched by the defenders for the full six. If the ball touches the goal post, goes between the goal post and a behind post, or is subjected to any of the other, sort of nebulous (to me) arrangements—usually involving contact with members of the defending side—the team is awarded a behind, worth one point.

There is no offsides, which, in combination with the circular field and teams the size of a small-scale war game, leads to the action looking like something of a swirling maelstrom of flashing arms and thighs, most of which have the bulging curvature of Bass Strait swells during a small craft advisory. The sleeveless guernsey and rugby-short shorts, combined with soccer boots and high, often hooped, socks, give the game an instantly recognizable aesthetic, one quite popular—as my antipodean lover pointed out—with women, and, aside from showing off the often Grecian physiques, useful both in its freedom of movement, of which there will be a lot, and merciful lack of coverage, as Australian winters are not particularly cold.

Players can run in any direction they please with the ball, provided they bounce it every 15 meters or so, which looks absolutely ludicrous and is not altogether unchallenging upon first attempt. The ball is advanced either by kicking it or handballing, which consists of holding the ball steady in one hand before punching it with the other in the direction of one’s teammate, another action which is unique to the game and just as much fun—and more intuitive than one would think—as it sounds.

Marking is, far and away, the most magnificent and eye-catching aspect of the game; if anyone has seen a brief clip of footy footage, it is almost assuredly a spectacular mark, aka a specky, screamer, hanger, etc, and it almost always consists of one player scaling another, often ending up genuflecting upon his ladder’s shoulders , to snatch the ball from mid-air. Any clean, on-the-flight catch of a kick results in a mark; once caught cleanly, the players steps back from the spot where he caught it, and is allowed to disseminate the ball unobstructed.

As one can imagine, a series of quick marks, which resembles, at its best, the dinking and dunking and eventual bombing of an Air Raid offense, can swiftly move the ball upfield; as such, spoiling, or the punching away of the ball before the catch can be made, is of prime defensive importance; basically everyone is a cornerback or a wideout at some point. Tackling also comes into play; if a player is wrestled to the ground before giving up the ball, a similar, uncontested moment is allowed to the defender for kicking/passing.

In the end, the whole thing kind of looks, if one can excuse the slightly too on-the-nose analogy, like a sporting platypus, incorporating elements of soccer—the kicking, the near constant fluidity—and rugby—the physicality, including the manner of tackling—with dashes of basketball dribbling, American football pass catching/defending, punting, and field goal kicking, and all of this contested on the vast, mutable expanses of a cricket oval.

And I really, really wanted to play.

***

I came across the Chicago Swans when my girlfriend Maggie and I were discussing the national sport of her ancestral home over breakfast one morning on the West Side. Upon discovering that there is a United States Australian Football League—which, it seems, feeds the United State’s national team—and that Chicago had a team, she suggested I write a story about them, a suggestion I took to immediately.

I was already familiar with the game, being a rather avid sport junky, but my exposure to Aussie rules mainly revolved around jumper reveals on the Uni Watch blog and the odd clip here or there—almost always a specky, which to me resembles those soaring great whites off South Africa—and some YouTube highlights. I had a favorite team, the Fremantle Dockers, chosen for reasons both arbitrary—a fondness for nautical imagery, chevrons, and, with apologies to Paul Lukas, purple as uniform color—and tangentially belayed by it being Maggie’s hometown.

As research revealed the Swans to be an organization more along the lines of a roller derby team—i.e., one travel team, the actual Swans themselves, comprised of the best players, which played other teams cities in USAFL sanctioned contests, and which was then split into Metro league teams, in this case the Lincoln Park Piranhas, the Lincoln Square Tigers, and the Wrigleyville Rhinos—and, like most roller derby teams, inviting of potential participants, the story shifted from the novelty of AFL in America to something more involved: Could I actually play the game? Be the aluminum swan, vis-a-vis Plimpton’s Paper Lion?

Making a metro team, my Swans pointman, and Tigers coach, Brian Hoyt informed me via email, was a given; anyone who comes to play is allotted a slot. Only the 22 best, however, make the Swans, and, once there, only the best in America can join the Revolution, the USA squad, compete in the International Cup in Australia, and perhaps even be invited to try out for an AFL team. These are long shots, of course, fever dreams for a sportswriter who weighs a wiry 145 soaking wet and, since playing lacrosse in high school and being captain of his minuscule Catholic college’s track team, has dealt more often with bowls than balls and batons.

But to play—that was a given, and an extremely important one, at that. Those of us who used to be athletes, even in the loosest, lowest sense of the term, sometimes lay sleepless at night, missing not only the obvious aspects of our erstwhile lives—the camaraderie, the glow of glory, no matter how cold and faint—but the less obvious ones as well: the pain, the suffering, the challenge. For me, in particular, surrounded by the kind of adult struggles which are only exacerbated by a career with zero security and the capriciously cruel, feast-or-famine nature of an Atlantic City slots parlor, what I missed most was the concrete fight; the knowledge that I could work harder, could run, lift, practice, could struggle, hustle, bleed, and fight back. I could take control of one aspect of my life, could run it down, bring to bear against it—literally!—sinew and tooth and bone, could corporeally, concretely, empirically win. And so I answered John’s flare.

***

Let me tell you something about the Australian football: It is a mercurial thing, surprisingly amenable to being punched and punted with reasonable accuracy in a fairly short amount of time—the first thing I did, after introducing myself to John, was to ask if I could see his ball; as they are expensive and almost impossible to find stateside, this would be my best chance to touch one outside of the auspices of a team activity, and, my cursory once over complete, I handballed it—successfully!—to him, in a move which was meant to convey that footy was not completely outside of my ken, a kind of winking, hopefully not all that pathetic gesture of future solidarity—and well suited to catching and handling, even for someone with smaller hands, such as myself.

Get those fat fuckers on the ground or in the rain, however (with being wet and on the ground obviously the worst case scenario) and prepare to be made a fool of. The rotund shape lends itself to bounding, in the American football style, with maddening irregularity, and the same luxe curves which allow for easy handling while dry turn, to borrow a phrase, slippery when wet. Even more frustrating is the bounce, as, if you manage to hit the ground on the correct point of that swollen little belly, the ball will obediently bounce right back up in to your hands; miss by a millimeter, or hit some hitherto unforeseen deviant topographical feature, and it cartwheels away gleefully, most likely into the arms of the enemy.

As the clouds gathered over the city and a few other Swans straggled in for practice—including Hoyt and Minutes, who would become crucial to my natal career shortly—boots were donned and jokes exchanged. After a quick warm up jog and a static stretch circle, we began with skill-driven line drills, handballing to each other in every iteration—high, on the ground, off handed—before moving in to some close quarters kicks.

The kicking, aside from the limitations on physicality my small frame may provide, was my greatest concern coming in; I played little boy soccer, as many my age did, up until eight grade, but even then my foot skills were limited at best. You could certainly kick a lacrosse ball, if you wanted to, but it was not exactly a crucial aspect of the game, and track would be of little help, outside of perhaps some mechanical nuances. Seeing me badly launch a few wounded birds, Minutes took me aside to work on my albatross.

He instructed me to drop the ball perfectly downwards onto my kicking foot, to make impact along the lace tops; within a half-dozen tries, I had begun to nail the general idea, if only straight line, unmolested, and a few yards apart. Still, that I had begun to kick any properly at all was a great relief to me.

My spirits were further buoyed in a variation on the triangle drill, wherein three lines, tracing a great triangle clockwise in streaking patterns, would attempt to mark a kick on the fly from their counterparts. The regularity of dropped/miss-kicked balls—this is not an easy action, especially as the rain had begun to fall—led to a premium on hustle and backing up the fellow in front of you, two things independent of skill and therefore right up my alley, and when at long last I finally struck my man on the run and on the hands, the chorus of attaboy sentiments lofted me into believing, for the first time, that I could perhaps do this.

In fact, unlike other tight knit, niche enthusiasts, the Swans were as accommodating as their online solicitation sounded. No groaning or mockery met my feeble attempts, of which there were many, and every individual’s success was cheered, as it should be—as it was—as the team’s. These were men who wished to share their game, wanted it to be your game, and if such a thing sounds a given, I can assure you it is not.

The author receives advice from Swans coach Anthony Hendrie.

Similarly refreshing was the lack of swaggering, amateur machismo, which is so often heightened, in inverse proportion, to the stakes of the athletic contest being measured (this is a phenomena something like what is encountered in academia, the old saw about the sniping being so brutal because the stakes are so small). Despite being surrounded by soccer teams—always a popular rec sport, one must imagine that, with the mighty influx of passions afforded the game every four years, the rosters are engorged right now—a favored target of full contact player’s ridicule, not one word was said. A rugby team was gently disparaged when they moved into the way of our conditioning relay, but the laughingly added caveat that they were bigger than us (that’s twice, now, I’ve identified with them), and therefore allowed to impede as they saw fit, highlighted the good naturedness of it.

The conditioning, which included a lovely little drill wherein everyone drops for ten pushups, sprints up-hill—in Chicago!—to perform ten more, then rolls like thunder down the hillside for the final mad rush and drops to a final set of ten, all under two minutes, the first time, and a minute thirty, the next, the aforementioned relay race, and the running required of all of the skill drills, would have been no problem for collegiate sprinter me. For party good time sleepless sportswriter me, they were nigh insurmountable challenges. My triceps surae locked and spasmed; worse, a dim fog and something like the sound of cicadas rose in my ears and my head began to float. By the last grueling pushup and stretching circle, I had felt more dead and alive than I had in years.

***

The next three days were spent in pain; a knot developed in the bloody bundle of cords which comprise the hamstring; the conch-like curves of my calf muscle radiated pain with the slightest touch; the wrist of my predominant handballing hand, injured many years ago in a blindside collision with a Naval Academy-bound lacrosse defenseman, felt as if it were rusting.

None of the ailments had subsided by the time I descended the stairs of Addison station on Friday night, into a slowly dispersing blue crowd of apres game Cubs faithful who had witnessed a late afternoon mauling of the Nationals.

A few blocks east, Boystown, in the midst of PRIDE, resembled either the sticky, sybaritic patina of a party or a Dionysian prelude; scattered chemical toilets and revelers in various stages of undress were suspended between saturnalias, one girl, perched sobbing on the back of a firetruck on Waveland, painfully so. The night was stifling, intermittent relief provided by the winds coming off Lake Michigan, still brumal with the polar vortex’s chill.

The Swans were hosting a children’s birthday party when I arrived, small bodies and smaller balls flying about as the nippers played what appeared to be a little round robin tournament. I desperately tried to warm up, fearful that my legs would betray me, and found Maggie on the sideline, black flask of vodka in hand.

My original plan, to sit out a quarter or half, get a feel for the game, and shoot photos, was scrapped immediately. With not enough men to play a full 18v18 match, I wold be pressed into service from the opening bounce (by the way, games start with a bounce). After divvying the arrivals up into Tigers and Rhinos, I was officially made the latter and pulled on my first Aussie rules jumper, a rather chic number, if I do say so myself, in the colors of the Chicago flag, predominately powder blue with red collars, numbers, and right aligned red and white strips. I grabbed the smallest guernsey I could find, an XL, which only accentuated my lath-like appendages in comparison to my teammates.

Playing defensively in the backend, my main focus was to stick to my man and prevent him from receiving the ball, particularly on a mark. Trotting out, my first-ever opponent, a rangy fellow named Sam, welcomed me to the game. Upon learning it was my first time, he assured me that I would get the hang of it. “Everybody’s first time is a little crazy,” he said. “But if you stick with it, the difference between their first game and their second is huge.”

Whether the later part of Sam’s prophecy is true remains to be seen, but I can attest to the former. That swirl of action and muscle I mentioned a few thousand words ago is no less confusing from inside the din; being small and relatively fast, any potency I can boast in a game comes primarily from my knowledge of said game, i.e., using my understanding and speed to ensure that, even if I am not the strongest or most talented member of the team, I can be in the correct place.

Lacking this athletic awareness, a creeping hesitancy—should I stay next to man? Move towards the glut of people scrapping for the ball?—and tired legs hamstrung my effectiveness as around me raged a contest which shifted seamlessly from roiling, scrapping dog fights to graceful, aerial loping. I managed to put myself around the ball, which Swans head coach, and game umpire, Anthony Hendrie seemed pleased about, even if I did not quite know what to do with it (at his urging, I tried to maneuver myself behind my teammate with the ball for the duration, as from that position you can serve as both safe potential outlet and navigator) and I managed to inadvertently cheat only a hand full of times. The first time came on a tackle after a mark; a blatantly illegal move, and one which occurred to me halfway through as I thought to myself that it was unusual my opponent was not even attempting to get away. I almost repeated the mistake later on in front of our goalposts, letting go at the last second.

The author heading for what would be an illegal tackle.

The other fouls involved my favorite aspect of the game, handballing; when one is being tackled, a handball or kick before going down is the only course of action. My first touch, in a panic, I pitched the ball rugby style, which was mercifully uncalled and did not, it seemed to me, greatly affect the games outcome. A second instance of passing was, in my defense, not on purpose, as my arms became wrapped up in such a way as to prevent even a little rabbit punch, and the forward momentum tossed the ball lose.

My goal heading in to the contest was, first and foremost, to not get killed; a distant second was to do something, anything, that would unequivocally help my side. The moment came in the third quarter when, in a move which made me feel like Richard Sherman in the back corner of the end zone, I performed my first, of hopefully many, spoils, an over the back striking of the ball with closed fist that sent me into personal ecstatics, even as my calves seized agonizingly and I took to limping when not sprinting.

The rest of my game augured in from there, twice, refreshingly, literally—there is something pure and even good about getting nicely tackled—as a meandering onto the offensive side of the field left me even more impotent than I had been before, but the Rhinos won, 96-74, and, most importantly, I had survived.

My efforts were met, with the most part, by congratulations and support and finally a cold Modelo tinny, a suitable ending to what was the most enjoyable introductory game of my life. Even Maggie, who, exposed thighs aside, did not care much for footy even when she lived in Australia, seemed proud. The clear and present sense of accomplishment—I had wanted to play this game, I had struggled to play this game, I completed playing this game, albeit a slightly different version of it—served as an anodyne; the physical expression—to a breaking point—as catharsis.

A few days later, with the next official Swans function beneficently weeks away, my paroxysmal legs locked so badly I was reduced to walk around my apartment en pointe, a ballet of pain.

Saints sign leaping US basketballer as rookie

Saints sign leaping US basketballer as rookie

ST KILDA has signed American giant Jason Holmes on a two-year international rookie contract.

In announcing the signing at the AFL Draft Combine at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, Saints head of football Chris Pelchen said the 203-centimetre former college basketballer from Chicago had excited the club with his athletic prowess, coordination and competitiveness.

“For those who were here yesterday to see the vertical leap that Jason has, I think we were all impressed by that,” Pelchen said.

“That doesn’t mean he’s an AFL player (yet) … He’s got to learn some very basic skills and obviously understanding of the game… (but) I think he’ll adapt to the game very, very quickly.”

Holmes, 23, was identified as a potential AFL project player at the US combine in Los Angeles in April.

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He and fellow Americans Patrick Mitchell and Mark Cisco spent three weeks with the Sydney Swans Academy, then coached by Paul Roos. Only Mitchell was offered an international rookie contract by the club.

Holmes recorded a vertical leap of 97 centimetres – just four centimetres short of Nic Naitanui’s record.

Holmes told reporters he first came across Australian Football on cable television about six years ago.

When he heard about the US combine, he believed it was a game he was capable of playing after studying it on YouTube.

He says he picked up the skills more naturally than many other hopefuls at the combine.

“I’ve just been trying to absorb as much as I can,” he said. “It was polarising to me, watching just how important it is in this country and how many fans come watch it. It’s a huge sport and it looked really exciting.”

Asked whether he found it difficult to give up basketball, Holmes said: “At times … but my passion is to compete. I had time to think about (it) … and I wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t serious to me.”

Holmes said he was looking forward to the physicality of the game, saying his basketball career had him well equipped.

“As a ruckman it’s very similar as far as dominating other men against you, and I have no problem with getting physical and imposing my will,” he said.

Kicking was never a problem, says the left-footer, who reveals he played soccer as a youngster and also punted for a gridiron team. He also played baseball.

“So I have read the ball in the air before. It’s a different ball, different shape but it helped, it translates,” he said. “And handballing … just felt real natural to me …

“I have a lot to learn, and I’m here for that reason, but I feel I can be more of an asset to the club in my later development when I can do a little bit more … full-forward maybe. I like kicking.”

Holmes’ older brother Andre plays with NFL franchise Oakland Raiders.

“He’s excited,” Holmes said. “He wishes I shared the same interest in football, so I’m pretty excited to say I play too.”