Former NZ American Football rep gives Gridiron 101

By Eru Paranihi
  • Auckland

Today is an important one for American Football fans as the Superbowl LI gets underway between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. While the American adaptation of rugby is still lost on many of us, it is a simple game once you understand it.

Former New Zealand American Football representative Greg Riwai gave Te Kāea a quick introduction to the sport and put Eru Paranihi through his paces. It’s a sport that so few New Zealanders understand, yet show so much interest, especially around Superbowl.

“It's built for Māori and Pacifica peoples I think this game. You'll see that through the American NLF league. There are a lot more Polynesians popping up.”

There are 11 players on each team which consists of an attacking side and a defensive side. The objective for the attacking side is to score points. The defensive team has to stop them.

“In League and Rugby, it's all about the flow keeping the ball moving, a complete opposite to American Football. Ball retention is probably the most important thing.”

In Rugby, a defensive manoeuvre is called a tackle. In American Football, they have another word for it called ‘Downs’. So in Rugby, you have unlimited ‘Downs’ and League you have six. An attacking team gets points by crossing the touchdown line, whereas rugby you need to place the ball on the ground.

Quarterback is perhaps the most widely known position which compares best to a Rugby First Five-Eight, or a League Stand-Off. Typically, these are the superstars of the team.

Riwai also compared other positions in both games,

“You probably got the wide receiver who's the person that stands right out to the sideline, and they're usually the fast people in the team, much like our wingers. You got the front row in the scrum, well those guys would be the offensive live. And then you've got your running backs who are probably more like the centres, busting holes through the tackle.”

Riwai was frank as to who he believes will win Superbowl LI,” It’s going to be a big task and I think there’s more money on the Patriots than there is on Atlanta Falcons.”