"And the best player on the Roosters, found unconscious drunk outside the police station last April?"
"Just boys bein' boys!" sang Ribs.
"And the star player"—all week I'd been boning up—"who exposed himself to the woman last April?"
"I've dropped my daks and danced on the bar of the Snake Pit a number of times."
"How about the sports psychologist from Tasmania who called your sport 'mindless bum-sniffing barbarism'?"
"Now that's a bit rough," protested Ribs.
He grinned again, the fury on the field absolving everything. The final seconds were ticking off, Sydney City and Brisbane in an 8-8 alley brawl, the crowd in a howl. Then, on the game's final play, one of the visitors drop-kicked a 30-meter goal through the posts for a 9-8 Brisbane victory, sending Ribs, just the sort of man who cherished the chance to aggravate the entire stadium by pulling for the out-of-towners, into rapture...and all of us back across the street to the Captain Cook to further our debate.
Nash sneered as the P.A. announcer boomed the pregame intros and the Chargers pranced through a hip-hop tunnel of high fives. "They're running amok! At least our blokes wait till they've done something to congratulate themselves," he mocked. He was a vat of conflicted emotions as we braced for Round 3, his angst over the Swans' loss to the North Melbourne Kangaroos the previous evening moiling with his joy over my whoop at an astonishing 60-meter Swan goal, all burbling beneath the dark crust of his double-layered hangover.
Saturday's Aussie rules game at Sydney Cricket Ground had been just what a local writer, Peter FitzSimons, had warned me it would be: an upturned bowl of spaghetti and the fall of Saigon, all rolled into one. One oval bladder and 36 human beings loosed on a green surface nearly twice as long and almost three times as wide as an American football field, the bouncing ball jitterbugging insanely as men in sleeveless shirts and tight shorts dove and kicked and punched and scooped at it, cloud-scraping 60-meter punts pulling a half-dozen bodies skyward, each trying to springboard off the small of the other's back, 30-point leads vanishing in a hop, kick and a bump, all befitting a sport whose inventor, Thomas Wills, killed himself in 1880 with a pair of scissors. Midair collisions bringing medics and stretchers on the gallop and Ribs back from his out-of-body Victoria Bitter experience like smelling salts: "Copped a beauty, he did! That bloke's not well!"
Lovely madness interrupted by dizzying lunacy: boundary umps responding to out-of-bounds balls by turning their backs to the players and blindly flinging the ball as high and far as they could, while the crowd went "Woooof!" and ruckmen and rovers trampolined in pursuit; stern white-coated and white-hatted goal umps looking like men who had come to drag someone back to the asylum, signaling scores with a stern six-shooter bang-bang of their index fingers followed by a snapping semaphore of white flags; a dozen white-suited water-bearing trainers and neon-green-clad message runners sprinting onto the field whenever a player plucked a punt from the air inside the 50-meter line to record a "mark" and earn an unimpeded kick on goal, all of it timed by a field clock regularly at five to 10 minutes' variance with the scoreboard clock, causing the hooter, as the quarter-and game-ending siren is endearingly called, to startle everyone no matter when it honked. "Don't tell me that's not great football," Nash kept wheeling toward me and erupting, spewing spittle and beer on the poor sap in front of us, and dang if I could gather my wits to reply.