Understanding Australian Rules Football

Josh Caddy of the Cats looks to break from a tackle by Dean Cox of the Eagles during the round 21 AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Geelong Cats at Patersons Stadium on August 17, 2013 in Perth, Australia. Credit: Paul Kane / Getty Images

Take 44 brawny footballs warriors, a modern colosseum, and upwards of 95,000 boisterous fans, and you pretty much have an average Friday night down under. It's Aussie Rules season.

Australia's national obsession (otherwise known as "Footy") has been drawing huge crowds ever since sportsman Tom Wills dreamt the sport up in 1859. Originally devised as a means to keep cricketers fit during the off-season, the game is said to be a colonial combo of rugby, Gaelic football, and Marn Grook, an aboriginal ball game played between local tribes. Once Melbourne Football Club finally set a code of laws, Australian Rules was born.

So what exactly are the rules? The bruising full-contact sport is played over four 20-minute quarters, during which teams try to outscore their opponents with goals and behinds. Goals are kicked into the opposing team's "centre" goal (clocking six points) while kicking or punching the ball through the outer set of posts results in a single point.

Unlike American Football (otherwise known as "Football"), throwing is not allowed and passes are made by punching the ball – known as handballing – or punting it down the oval pitch. Catching the ball on the fly is perhaps the most epic of aerobic Aussie Rules moves and involves players displaying explosive power as they launch skywards to muscle in on possession. Tackles often result in punishing mid-air collisions, and referees dressed in fluorescent uniforms seem to spend as much time dodging high-impact run-ins as they do watching the game. Plays dubbed "Crash and Bash" are completely legal. That said, brute force isn't the whole game. Players, some of whom tip the scales at 240 pounds, run up to to 12 miles per game – that's about 11 more miles than any American receiver is likely to sprint on any given Sunday. These guys are some of the most buff middle-distance runners on Earth.

Catching some footy action is a must for anyone visiting Australia in late summer or early fall. A carnival buzz electrifies the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane come game day. Public transport is free and packed with rowdy barrackers (fans), all festooned in flags and guernseys (the official bicep-popping sleeveless kit shirts). Adding to the general merriment are the food stalls full of meat pies, beer, and wine. AAMI Stadium, in Adelaide, is famed for its bring-your-own barbecues.

As for the standings, 18 teams from across Oz are battling it out in this year's Premiership Season with Victorian squad Hawthorn the current league frontrunner. The top two finishers will advance to compete at the season's "Granny" (grand final) at "The G" (Melbourne Cricket Ground) on September 28th, where both teams will be hoping for a string of "sausage rolls" (goals).

More Information: Tickets start from $25 (Australian); Australian footy glossary, not included. The AFL season runs from March until September. For info on teams, tickets, and fixtures, check out the sport's official website. For those who can't make it down under, USFooty runs a national coast-to-coast league (with teams from the New York Magpies to the Portland Steelheads), which  are on the perpetual scout for both fans and rookies.