Australian rules football is not just the NFL played down under. Also referred to as "Aussie rules" or "footy," this highly physical game is one of Australia's most popular sports, and was originally invented in the 1800s as a way to keep cricketers fit during the off season. The game then started to gain popularity in Melbourne, and the official rules of the sport were codified in 1859.
This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Jon Wertheim traveled to Australia to speak with one of the AFL's top players, an American named Mason Cox. Mason helped 60 Minutes learn the rules of Aussie rules.
The game is played on an oval field roughly double the size of an NFL field. According to Cox, this means players run roughly 13 miles each game. There are 18 players per team on the field at any given time, and they must hand pass, kick, or dribble the ball, which is rounder and larger than an American football, down the field, and score by kicking the ball through one of four goalposts.
The two goal posts in the middle are 20 feet tall, and flanked by two shorter goal posts on each side, about 10 feet tall. Scoring a goal through the middle earns six points, while scoring a goal through a side post is good for one point. The most challenging part of the game? The players wear no protective gear or padding.
"There's no rules, so you can do whatever you want. It's extremely physical," Cox, who was once diagnosed with two torn retinas after a game, explained to 60 Minutes. "You can tackle. You can kind of punch people… I think it's the toughest sport in the world with how much you have to run, the collisions, everything."
Players are allowed to full body tackle, kick, and use virtually any means to prevent the opposing team from scoring. And at any expense.
"I had one teammate who got all his teeth knocked out. We played a game in Perth, after a four hour flight, they stuck 'em back in, then put his mouth guard in for the flight," AFL player Tom Mitchell told 60 Minutes. "And he flew home with a mouth guard in just to try and keep [the teeth] alive, but they all died on the plane…"
Broken bones, players knocked out cold on the ground, it is all, Cox offered, part of the Aussie rules game.
"...Terrible to say, you kind of get used to it… broken arms, broken legs. You see all that in the game. And it's one of those things, you just come to the realization that you're never going to come out of the game the same way you came into it," he said. "Your body's going to be different, you're going to have aches and pains, and chances are you're going to break quite a few bones along the way."
The Aussie rules premiership season started the last weekend of March, and games are played through August. The finals then commence, culminating in a championship Grand Final on Sept. 30. The Grand Final is always played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The video above was originally published on April 30, 2023 and was edited by Will Croxton.
Game footage courtesy of the AFL.
for more features.