Which is tougher – American football or rugby? Author Alistair Bland, who has been on the South Island of New Zealand, put the question to some bar patrons in a couple of towns. He began by asking people if they’d seen the Super Bowl on TV, calling it “the world’s biggest game.”
In the seaside town of Kaikoura, one bartender told me he didn’t air the game and said I probably was the only person in town looking to watch the Super Bowl. The bar manager at Strawberry Tree, a worn and salty old watering hole on Kaikoura’s main and only drag, said that American football is too slow-paced to watch on TV.
Bland then asked Stephen Horton, a rugby player on Kaikoura’s regional team, if American football players were padded, coddled softies. Were they less durable than rugby players?
“Oh, yeah!” he laughed. “Those guys wouldn’t last 80 minutes in a rugby match!”
Bland mentioned that NFL linemen who by some stroke of chance found the ball in their hands and ran it for an 80-yard touchdown could require oxygen masks to recover. This got Stephen and another Kiwi at the bar laughing, he states. NFL players are said to be bigger, stronger, and faster than rugby players, says Bland, quoting a commenter on an online discussion who says that the average NFL player could “pick up the average Super 14 player, turn him upside down, and shake him like a piggy bank.” Stephen’s response:
“I definitely think rugby is harder,” he said, “but football looks more fun. You wear all that padding and can hit each other as hard as you want. You get hurt in rugby. I’ve had three broken collar bones and been knocked out three times.”
Rugby players are trained gentlemen, too. In New Zealand, they start playing it as young as four years of age, and even in adult leagues, swearing is forbidden during practice, and “joking around,” Stephen explained, is curtailed by the coaches.
And none of those classless celebrations after scores or victories, says Bland. Later in the week, he stopped at the Moa Brewing Company for a beer and to egg on more conversation, as he puts it. There he met Michael Miller, an American who had been living in New Zealand for eight months and who had picked up on “the subtleties of rugby that American football lacks.”
“I don’t mean to be derogatory toward anyone, but rugby is more intellectual,” he said, explaining that, since they lack protective gear, the players must combat each other with exceptional technique. He likens the sport to “guerrilla warfare,” whereas the face-off-and-charge approach of the NFL is more like “Civil War” battle style. “Rugby can also be quite brutal,” Michael said, “but it’s also more beautiful and elegant.” He noted that rugby players must be skilled in tackling, running, and handling the ball – all aspects of the game – whereas football players are specialized to certain techniques, making them less rounded as tactical athletes.
Michael tells him that American football, much more than rugby, “has been evolved for commercialization and television.” Bland concludes:
Which explains the three-hour games, endless breaks and timeouts, and the huge advertising campaigns that climax on Super Bowl day.
- Bland, Alistair. February 8, 2012. “Football or Rugby: Who’s Tougher?” The Anderson Valley Advertiser.