HomeCultureAmerican Football vs. Aussie Rules

American Football vs. Aussie Rules

Football is one of the most popular sports in the United States, and its grand finale, the Super Bowl, is the highlight of the annual sporting calendar. Fans and non-fans alike have their eyes glued to their TVs during the Super Bowl, with many using the game as a social occasion, throwing parties and getting together with friends and family to watch.

While Americans love football, it is a sport that confuses many Europeans. What they call football, those in the U.S. call soccer, creating plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding. However, Australians suffer a similar plight. Australian rules football (often called Aussie rules) is a game that shares similarities to both American football and soccer, with some distinctions that help to separate them. 

Why so many footballs?

Football, soccer Aussie rules and a game called rugby are all relatives from the same family. They all date back to England in the 1800s, when a game was created that was similar to modern-day soccer. In 1863, the sport of rugby (officially called rugby football) began when a set of rules were created that diverged from the original “association football.” Rugby is much closer to American football and Aussie rules: players are allowed to carry the ball, and points are scored by placing the ball on the ground at the end of the pitch. 

In 1892, American football also diverged from soccer with similar rules to rugby. Over the next century, the rules were refined to create scrimmage and the downs system, while rugby evolved differently. Another rule divergence was the creation of Australian rules in 1852, when the first game was played in Melbourne. 

American vs. Australian

Americans play football on a rectangular pitch, just like in soccer and rugby. Australians, however, use a much bigger, oval-shaped pitch. Aussie rules has 18 players on the pitch, with several more waiting on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Americans have two separate teams for attack and defense.

Both games use egg-shaped balls, as opposed to the spherical balls used in soccer. American players are much more protected, with helmets and large amounts of body armor, whilst Aussie rules players are only permitted a gum shield and some light padding. Despite this lack of protection, Aussie players don’t seem to suffer more injuries than their American counterparts. Aussie rules also tends to be faster paced, with less stopping as compared to American football. 

An Australian Super Bowl?

photo by Flickerd

Just like the NFL has the Super Bowl, the Australian Football League has the Grand Final. This is an event that is held at the end of the season to decide who will be declared champion of that year. In 2019, the current favorite to win is Geelong, with Collingwood close behind. 

Overall, American football and Aussie rules are very similar games. The premise remains the same, with the differences being mostly around scoring, pitch sizes and player numbers. To someone who knew almost nothing about either sport, the two would look very similar, and this is to be expected given they share the same ancestors and branched off at roughly the same time.

Top photo by by Riley McCullough.

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  • Don Lemon / July 26, 2020

    Aussie rules is closer to Soccer as it is non-stop play. American football is more like chess with mapped out plays. American football also has forward passing and a less-bulging ball to make it easy to throw. American football has a name for every player on the field. It has different size men depending on their position. It has 300 pound guys and it has 100 pound guys. Some are meant to block others are meant to run fast. Where Aussie rules is like soccer in that most players need to run and be fit. They are all pretty much the same build. Both games are easy to pick up if you know the other game. Very similar scoring. And the downs system is common. I think the forward pass and stopping after each down make American football more complicated. As the teams have more ways to attack and time to set up complicated plays.

    Also the padding make injuries more likely than not. It’s a bit like you have more injuries in boxing with gloves than without. Because you’re more likely to punch harder if you’re not busing up your hands in the process. Players use helmets to spear other players. Or shoulder pads to spear. American football is far more brutal because without pads, Aussies are a little more tentative about going head first at a guy without a helmet. Also, forward passing opens up players to being more vulnerable while catching the ball. They are stretched out on an open field where another player can spear them.

    • Shane / September 4, 2021

      I think you’re confusing Australian Rules Football (Aussie Rules) with rugby. The games are not similar in any way.
      Have a look at some Aussie Rules videos online; you’ll see what I mean!

  • John Cregan / July 4, 2021

    Disappointing that you repeat the myth that rugby is derived from soccer. All the football codes derive from versions of folk football played in England in the early 19th century. The new class of industrialists created by the industrial revolution sent their boys to public schools. They took the type of folk football they played with them to their public school. Different versions of football became popular in different schools and had rules drawn up for them – rugby at Rugby, soccer at Eton and Harrow.

    Soccer is much more different from folk football than either rugby, American football or Aussie Rules. The Web Ellis myth – that he picked up the ball in a game of soccer and ran with it – was put about by the Rugby Football Union after its split with the professional Rugby League in 1895. They wanted to claim then – and still do – that their game is more highly-evolved.

  • CLyde james / November 30, 2023

    If this article was written in the USA, I’d like to inform the author that in the USA what the article calls a “pitch” is called “the field”. Australia and Britain are to the USA FOREIGN countries, and the word “pitch” meaning field is a FOREIGN WORD.