The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

OUR NEW WAVE OF STATES­MEN

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WHEN I was in high school, just be­fore the ar­rival of the Sec­ond Fleet, an Amer­i­can teacher would pass on the copies of Sports Il­lus­trated and The Sport­ing News that his fa­ther had posted to him.

This was long be­fore there was so much Amer­i­can sport on pay TV you could de­velop a New Or­leans twang with­out leav­ing your arm­chair.

From the sto­ries of the finest sportswrit­ers, US sports al­pha­bet soup – NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL – had an aura of wealth, glam­our and ex­cess that made our leagues seem, in their jar­gon, mi­nor league.

Joe DiMag­gio mar­ried Mar­i­lyn Monroe; our foot­ballers tried to chat up the TV weather girl.

Vince Lom­bardi handed pre-game speeches down on stone tablets; our coaches mim­icked his doc­trine and man­ner­isms.

Amer­i­can ath­letes signed eight-fig­ure con­tacts; ours hag­gled over a leased Ford Fair­lane. They called do­mes­tic teams “world cham­pi­ons’’ which made them seem at once ar­ro­gant and fore­bod­ingly self-con­fi­dent.

Even the life sto­ries of Amer­i­can ath­letes made our sports­men seem quaint and homely. Was there a sin­gle wide re­ceiver in the NFL who had not lost a close rel­a­tive in a drive-by shoot­ing?

Was there a star pitcher in MLB who wasn’t one sniff away from a 12-month drugs ban? Did the Dal­las Cowboys re­ally do that on their char­tered jet?

Such wild ex­cess made the sto­ried ball parks of the US seem even less ac­ces­si­ble to our hum­ble, schooner-drink­ing Aussies, even al­low­ing for the fact a hand­ful of pioneers had played mostly mi­nor roles across var­i­ous Amer­i­can sports.

Bas­ket­ball was the ob­vi­ous sport for Aus­tralians to make an im­pact. Be­tween 1996-98 Luc Longley had Michael Jor- dan, Scotty Pip­pen, Dennis Rod­man and Toni Kukoc buzzing around him dur­ing three Chicago Bulls NBA ti­tles.

Base­ball here was no longer just an off-sea­son hobby for crick­eters, and Dave Nils­son forged an ex­cel­lent ca­reer with the Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers.

Pitcher Graeme Lloyd won two World Se­ries in 1996 and ’98. A Gee­long boy had be­come a New York Yan­kee.

The NFL? We’d had the odd par­tic­i­pant be­fore an ex-Mel­bourne full for­ward called Dar­ren Ben­nett showed NFL scouts Aussie rules play­ers kicked like star­tled mules.

By the turn of the cen­tury sat­u­ra­tion TV cov­er­age, PlayS­ta­tion games and sports bet­ting meant Amer­i­can sports had never been big­ger here.

The next step? Aus­tralians not just role play­ers but the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

Patty Mills shoot­ing the lights out in an NBA fi­nals game. Matthew Dellave­dova wear­ing su­per­star Steph Curry like a wet­suit, the boy from Vic­to­ria be­com­ing a wa­ter cooler topic in New York. Now, en­ter Jar­ryd Hayne, the most un­likely hero. Well, let’s say po­ten­tial hero un­til the ink is dry on a con­tract and Hayne has stiff-armed a few tack­lers in a reg­u­lar sea­son game.

The NFL has not yet been de­mys­ti­fied like the NBA and MLB.

We have had those pun­ters on the field for their fleet­ing sec­onds, and Queens­lan­der Jesse Wil­liams could yet make a name for him­self as a de­fen­sive tackle with the Seat­tle Seahawks de­spite chronic knee in­juries and los­ing a kid­ney to can­cer.

Hayne’s story, how­ever, is spe­cial. If he was to thrive with­out so much as a col­lege ap­pren­tice­ship he would oblit­er­ate any lin­ger­ing cul­tural sport­ing cringe and demon­strate the best ath­letes in the NRL are the equal of any west of Pluto.

Be­yond that? The fi­nals of the Aus­tralian Ice Hockey League are be­ing played in Mel­bourne this week­end. Once you would have thought there was as much chance of a Ton­gan win­ning the Olympic down­hill skiing as an Aus­tralian play­ing in the NHL. But Nathan Walker, raised in Syd­ney, is on the Washington Cap­i­tals ros­ter and hopes to make his de­but when he re­cov­ers from a knee in­jury.

If Walker suc­ceeds that kid push­ing the puck around the stum­bling hobby skaters at a crowded lo­cal rink won’t just dream of mak­ing it. He will be­lieve he can, be­cause US sports are no longer some im­pen­e­tra­ble fortress, merely a place to ply your sport­ing trade.

Matthew Dellave­dova wear­ing su­per­star Steph Curry like a wet­suit ... be­com­ing a wa­ter cooler topic in New York

 ??  ?? Jar­ryd Hayne (right) runs with the 49ers; and (be­low) Patty Mills soars with the Spurs.
Jar­ryd Hayne (right) runs with the 49ers; and (be­low) Patty Mills soars with the Spurs.
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