The Australians in the Super Bowl

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Natasha Frost, a reporter based in Melbourne.

At least one, and possibly two, Australians will take the field in Arizona for the Super Bowl on Sunday night, before a television audience of hundreds of millions of people. With the game starting at 10:30 a.m. Monday Sydney time, relatively few Australians will be watching.

Neither Arryn Siposs, the punter for the Philadelphia Eagles, nor his teammate Jordan Mailata, an offensive lineman, comes from an American football background. And, despite Australia’s sports-loving reputation, neither is exactly a household name at home.

In Australia, Siposs is remembered mostly as a former player for the St. Kilda Football Cub, the Australian rules football club nicknamed the Saints. In 2015, at age 22, he was cut after successive injuries caused him to miss months at a time. (Yet another injury may prevent him from playing on Sunday night.)

Mailata, a bear of a man with an astoundingly beautiful singing voice, comes from a rugby league background.

In 2017, he rejected a contract worth 5,000 Australian dollars (about $3,500) from a rugby league feeder team while he was working as a scaffolder to pay the bills. After being drafted in the seventh round in the 2018 N.F.L. draft, he played in his first game in 2020. In 2021 he signed a four-year, $64 million contract.

Dive Deeper Into Super Bowl LVII

  • The God of Sod: George Toma, 94, has been a groundskeeper for all 57 Super Bowls. On Sunday, his perfectionism will be on display for millions of people who will have no idea who he is or how he suffers for his work.
  • Philadelphia Swagger: After surviving a disastrous introductory news conference, an ill-chosen flower analogy and his “Beat Dallas” motivational shirt, Nick Sirianni has transformed the Eagles, and maybe himself.
  • Inside a Kansas City Oasis: Big Charlie’s Saloon is a South Philadelphia bar with a bit of a conundrum: how to celebrate Kansas City’s Super Bowl berth without drawing the ire of locals.
  • Halftime Show: The nearly four-year gap between Rihanna’s live performances will close when she takes the stage at the Super Bowl. During her hiatus, the stakes for her return have only grown.

Before the draft, he scored a spot at the N.F.L.’s International Player Pathway program, a 12-week training camp for foreign athletes who mostly have not played American football. He had never so much as worn a helmet before, he told the reporter Michael Sokolove for a profile in The New York Times magazine in 2019.

American football, unlike basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey, typically does not draw from an overseas talent pool. Training potential players from scratch, as the International Player Pathway program tries to do, is a daunting proposition.

Most of the Australians who have played in the N.F.L. were punters. Many found their way there through ProKick Australia, a punting academy run by the former N.F.L. punter Nathan Chapman that works to get promising Australian athletes opportunities in American football. About 190 of them have received full scholarships to American colleges, according to the company.

The academy first approached Siposs when he was 17, he wrote in a blog post in 2018. Not knowing the rules and having scarcely watched the sport, he recalled, “I put the letter to one side and didn’t give it another thought.”

He knew of other Australian punters who had made the transition, but saw it as a distraction from the real prize: playing in the A.F.L. at home. “I thought it was just a way they could stay in professional sport,” he writes. “When you’ve got a big leg, why not go over there for a few years if you can?”

Later, facing difficulties with getting his own A.F.L. career off the ground, he decided to give American football another go, eventually winning a scholarship through ProKick Australia to Auburn University.

“As long as I could remember I’d always kicked the footy, whether just to myself outside or mucking around with my little brother with a small footy inside the house, causing a ruckus,” he writes. And while the technique (and the ball) differs between the two sports, he says, “I guess kicking has always been my No. 1 skill.”

Mailata — who is 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 365 pounds — knew he would have to find an alternative to rugby league when his coaches began applying pressure on him to lose weight.

“I was down to 310, and they wanted me to lose 30 more pounds. I already had hardly any body fat, so it was an option where I’d either have to starve myself or chop off a leg,” he told The Times. “I talked to my agency, and they said, ‘Why don’t you play a sport that appreciates your size?’”

Here are the week’s stories.

Australia and New Zealand

Ryokei Mifune, who goes by Uni, during his journey across Australia.Credit…Ryokei Mifune
  • He Set Off Across Australia on a Toy Scooter. Then Australia Got on Board.An improbable journey by a Japanese visitor chronicling his adventures on social media has captured the country’s imagination.

  • The Biggest Penguin That Ever Existed Was a ‘Monster Bird.’Fossils found in New Zealand highlight an era after the dinosaurs when giant flightless birds prowled the seas for prey.

  • Grieving Turks and Syrians Abroad Rally to Help Quake Victims in Their Homelands. An outpouring of donations is flowing from around the world, as communities struggle to ease feelings of helplessness — and the agony of waiting for loved ones who have not called.

  • Teenage Girl Dies After Shark Attack in Australian River.The girl, 16, may have jumped into the water to swim with a pod of dolphins when she was attacked, the authorities said.

Around the Times

Rihanna, a social media natural, has been particularly adept at playing along with fans’ agonizing waiting game for new music.Credit…Axelle/Bauer-Griffin and FilmMagic, via Getty Images
  • Rihanna: Since She’s Been Gone.On Sunday, one of pop’s most reliable hitmakers returns for the Super Bowl halftime show. During her hiatus, her mystique has only grown.

  • Tensions Surge as U.S. Rebuts China’s Narrative Over Balloon.The spy balloon “was clearly for intelligence surveillance” and was part of a fleet that had flown over more than 40 countries, the State Department said.

  • ‘No More Antakya’: Turks Say Quake Wiped Out a City, and a Civilization.Amid scenes of utter devastation and widespread suffering in the bitter cold, residents mourned the loss of family, friends and memories.

  • All Hail the ‘God of Sod,’ Groundskeeper for All 57 Super Bowls.On Sunday, George Toma’s perfectionism will be on display for hundreds of millions of people who have no idea who he is or how he suffers for his work.

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