Australian Broadcast Corporation (the other ABC) correspondent Craig McMurtrie and his trusted cameraman Louie Eroglu have been based in Washington, D.C. for about a year now, covering the many political and social happenings in the United States.
Prior to August, the NFL and Redskins weren’t really on their radar for newsworthiness. But that was before the Redskins signed famous Aussie footballer-turned-NFL punter Sav Rocca. With the tremendous season that he’s putting together, it’s making waves overseas.
“We don’t typically do much sports stories,” admitted McMurtrie, “But there haven’t been that many Australians on the Redskins roster.”
McMurtrie and Eroglu were recently out at Redskins Park to interview Rocca about his life and career as an NFL punter. I headed them off with a conversation that gave me a better idea of Rocca’s past, and them a better idea of Rocca’s present.
As McMurtrie explained it, Australia is geographically segmented by the different football codes, be it AFL, rugby, etc. But regardless of the local sport, Australians know Rocca, the 13th-leading AFL scorer of all time.
“Sav Rocca is a famous AFL name, he’s a storied player,” he said. “He’s well-known, particularly in Melbourne and in places where Aussie Rules is played in Australia, because we play a number of football codes in Australia.”
“We’re interested in his success, and we’re interested in how his playing for the Redskins, which is one of the most storied sports franchises in the world.”
Rocca ranks among the league’s best in every meaningful punting category this season, and has helped to bring international intrigue to the Redskins. The only thing that Australian fans don’t understand, is how their beloved kicker has been relegated to six kicks per game and no opportunity to score points.
“The more ardent NFL fans maybe understand, but for most Australians, there wouldn’t really be an understanding of what a punter does,” McMurtrie explained. “Sav in his AFL career, not only would have been used to being one of the stars, but would have been on the ground for the whole game, just running his heart out. And the idea of him standing on the sidelines and going out for punts on maybe three or four plays a game is extraordinary.”
The biggest difference between the role of a player in the AFL and NFL is the specialization in the NFL. Players in Australia play in all phases of the game, not just offense or defense. Players are also passing, kicking, running and tackling during nonstop action.
When Rocca made the celebrated tackle of Cardinals punt returner Patrick Peterson in Week 2, it got buzz around the NFL. But for his family and fans back in Australia, it was really nothing surprising. They’ve seen it dozens of time.
“We remember the Sav Rocca that was running around making tackles like that all the time,” McMurtrie said. “But I can accept that from an American perspective, that’s a bit unusual.”
In addition to delivering a hit, Rocca can also take a hit, as he displayed in his first NFL preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. In the game, Ravens linebacker Antwan Barnes delivered a blindside shot to Rocca that drew groans around the globe:
“[Barnes] just wasted him, legs and arms in all directions,” McMurtrie said. “But I remember thinking afterward, that that guy was lucky that Sav wasn’t watching and didn’t know he was coming because he’s put a few shots on guys in his time too.”
I talked to the Aussies for almost a half hour, trading Rocca stories and explaining the finer points of a punter’s responsibilities. Then McMurtrie mentioned his favorite part of the NFL football experience: the pregame tailgate.
“One thing that I really love about the NFL is this whole idea of the pregame barbeque with fans. It’s amazing!” he said. “We’re talking about widescreen TVs set up in the back of the trucks, huge barbeques, some people had fridges and generators hooked up. It’s an event unto itself.”
They discussed between themselves about how the Australian pregame experience is much closer to the American baseball experience–go to the game, get tickets, go to your seats. Food is mostly available inside the stadium and after the game. They had heard of the American tailgate tradition, but had not experienced it until recently.
“I went to this game with one of mates, and he and his two friends had their trucks parked together, and they had banquet tables set up with food covering them,” McMurtrie said. “And they had been there since 9 o’clock in the morning! That’s four hours before their 1 o’clock game kicked off. And the distances that people will travel just to sit in the parking lot–it’s great. It’s just great.”
My conversation with the Australian reporters was a highlight for me, and accomplished an international understanding befitting the Nation’s Capital.
And in the end, I submit that there could not be a more perfect exchange: America gives the Australians the idea of the tailgate, and Australia gives America Sav Rocca.