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Following The Bouncing Ball

Normally, I'm just not a cat person, but I've found a group of cool cats.

The Geelong Cats.

If you're unfamiliar with Geelong, it's a port city in Australia of some 128,000 people. While I'm quite sure the folks there do all sorts of extraordinary things and have a storied history, what I know most about them is limited to their football team.

Yes, they play football in Australia-Australian Rules Football or “footy.”

If you've never seen it, turn to the Channel 23-3 over the air broadcast Monday nights at 9 p.m. and enjoy (though it may not necessarily include the Cats). The season is in full swing through about the end of August.

They are long games (consisting of four 20-minute quarters) and the players don't wear pads, kick and punch the ball an awful lot, and have this funny looking official who likes to point his hands like six shooters whenever someone scores a goal.

If it sounds strange keep in mind that I don't fully understand the game. Still, one doesn't always have to understand something to enjoy it.

Maybe it was because there was nothing else on that a game appeared the most family-friendly option or that I paused a bit too long for mere curiosity, but somehow I got hooked. Broadcasts, or rather rebroadcasts, are reminiscent of our weekly NFL telecasts. Still, there are some differences.

If you'd like to check out the Cats, click on their website and you won't find a schedule as such, for example, but look under “2011 Fixture.” I'm not sure why it's called a “fixture,” but maybe it's because scheduled games are set in metaphorical stone. Or, perhaps, they're up in lights somewhere and lights have fixtures.

In our version of football, there's a time scheduled kick-off time to start the game. In Australian Rules Football, there's a countdown to the “bounce.” Yep, you guessed it, the games start with a bounce at mid-field. (I think they call it mid-field? It's in the middle of the field, anyway-but I'm assuming.) If you want to learn how the teams fared in a previous match-up, check out what happened “last they met.”

Here, we hand out top team honors for MVP, Most Valuable Player. In the AFL honors are meted out for the “best and fairest.” Not sure what the criteria for such honors are or whether such selections involve the use of a magical mirror.

In America, football fields are rectangular and have goal posts on either end. In Australia, the fields are somewhat football shaped (somewhat oval) with four goal posts in each end. Goals, worth six points each, are not scored by crossing a line, but by a kick between the center two posts. A ball kicked between the two outside posts is scored as a “behind” and is only worth one point.

Let's just end it there.

If you want to know how well a team is doing, don't check the standings, but rather the “ladder.” I suppose to be good, a team has to climb the rungs to success in the league. (As I write this, Geelong is undefeated with a 9-0 record.)

There's plenty more I could go into-the methods of kicking, permissible tackling (a pain minus the pads, I'm sure), that they can't throw the ball and have to punch or kick it, how remarkable it is that a runner can intermittently dribble this oblong shaped ball as he sprints down the field…There is much to see and a lot to learn.

Still, it works as a wild scoring spectator sport. Now if I can just figure out how to get it in high definition while I plop a few steaks on the barbie.

That'll be a g'day.