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US Footy: good match for Springs 

click to enlarge This is one of several ads being used to help promote - Australian football in America. - US FOOTY
  • US Footy
  • This is one of several ads being used to help promote Australian football in America.

If you're old enough to have watched sports on television during the 1980s, chances are you spent more than a time transfixed by one game in particular on ESPN.

That game was, and still is, Australian rules football.

After ESPN's birth in 1979, and before it grew big enough to televise the top levels of American pro football, baseball and basketball, the network filled countless hours of programming with taped replays of Aussie football telecasts.

This was not about having U.S. announcers educating viewers on the sport's different rules Down Under. This was only about keeping the network on the air around the clock, and the Australian sportscasters were talking to their audience not us.

If you could figure out the rules and scoring, fine. If you couldn't, you could still sit there mesmerized by the Aussie game, its talent level and, of course, its innate toughness. No shoulder pads, or any pads. Just plenty of bruises and blood.

Eventually, ESPN didn't need the help anymore although some of its (r)evolutionary efforts in subsequent years have been far less entertaining.

Well, the Australian version of the game lives on, and it's also alive and kicking in America.

You probably haven't heard of US Footy, an edgy name for the United States Australian Football League. The USAFL, obviously aiming to attract a specific audience, has ad campaigns with such themes as, "The game is played with one ball. But we suggest you bring two." Or this: "Footy is a fast, physical, high-scoring game. Everything soccer wishes it was."

Ah, irreverence.

Now in its 12th year, US Footy each fall conducts a national championship, and the tournament is coming in October to Colorado Springs, actually to the Air Force Academy. The dates aren't set because the Mountain West Conference hasn't finalized its 2008 football schedule, so Air Force doesn't yet know its home dates for league games.

And the US Footy guys know better than to compete against, say, Air Force-Colorado State. So as soon as the Falcons' plans are set, the USAFL will lock in a free weekend, probably around either Oct. 11 or 18.

"We know how great the weather can be at that time of year as long as it doesn't snow," says Tom Ellis, head coach of the Denver Bulldogs, who have won five of the past six national titles, including in 2007.

Ellis was part of the group that worked with the AFA athletic department and the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. to make the tournament happen here. Needless to say, when US Footy officials came to visit last week and saw Air Force's vast Cadet Athletic Fields, they were salivating.

After all, they don't have the best memories from last year's tournament. It was played in Louisville, Ky., on fields that looked beautiful in the spring but not after a summer-long drought that led to strict, severe restrictions on watering.

"It was like a dust bowl," says Ellis, and he's not kidding. At the local announcement Feb. 8, organizers showed video from Louisville, and it looked more like Australian football in a rodeo arena.

That won't be a problem here. And as for economic impact, they're talking about more than 1,000 visitors, counting 32 men's and up to six women's teams, plus their traveling contingents.

This crowd of outsiders won't just eat fast food and hang out in motel rooms. In keeping with the game's swaggering spirit, they should make it a busy week at the city's watering holes. We don't want to get their hopes up too high, because in a US Footy release, league president Richard Mann said the Springs "offers great night life."

Opportunities, perhaps, But some of these teams are coming from New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. This will be like a rural town to many of them.

So they might be teaching the Springs a few lessons in night life, after showing us how the game's played during the day.

Which is all OK, because we can certainly use the help.

Bits and pieces: Almost always in college football recruiting, one player doesn't mean that much to a school. But one exception has to be running back Darrell Scott, generally rated the nation's top running-back prospect, deciding to play for Colorado. After losing senior playmaker Hugh Charles, CU didn't have an immediate replacement. That had to affect Scott's decision, knowing he very well could start as a freshman. It also helps that Scott's uncle, Josh Smith, played a lot for Colorado last fall as a freshman receiver.

How big a catch is Scott? He could've called any Top 25 program last week to ask for a scholarship, and the answer would've been yes. That includes Texas and UCLA (which pushed hard to the end) as well as LSU, Ohio State, Florida, anybody.

Longtime Broncos fans remember former Seattle quarterback Jim Zorn, the Washington Redskins head coach. Zorn, a genuinely good guy and a huge hero in Seattle, instantly won over the D.C. media by saying, "There already was a poll out. It was awesome. I had a 41 percent approval rating. That's better than the president of the United States, so I felt pretty good."

What's hard to believe, though, is Zorn's age. He's 54. Surely, that can't be right.

routon@csindy.com



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On the air Denver at North Dakota, excellent college hockey, 6:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday, FSN Rocky Mountain.

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