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Last spring (Northern Hemisphere for 'autumn'), I pitted Baseball against Cricket to decide once and for all which is the greatest ball and stick game. The coming of the Northern fall brings with it football, rugby and the definitive battle for supremacy among these contact sports.
But first, the ground rules. For the purposes of this comparison, I will be using the NFL, the pinnacle of American football, and Rugby Union, the more popular, and in my opinion, superior form of that game. Ten categories will be considered, worth ten points each, plus a five point bonus category. Let the best game win.
Football (7) - Cameragate notwithstanding, the New England Patriots have been the team to beat for the past six years. However, due to free agency and the salary cap, the Pats pale in comparison to the great teams of the past.
Rugby (9) - According to the IRB World Rankings, New Zealand is the current world's best, and it isn't for a lack of opposition. They dominate on the world scene, despite the best efforts of Australia, South Africa, England and France.
Best Historical Team
Rugby (9) - This one is a little tougher, but I'll go with the All Blacks again. Their 1925 squad was referred to as 'The Invincibles', and that's good enough for me.
Rugby (9) - There are some good options here, but I've got to go with New Zealand/Australia. Seems to usually come down to these two teams and they are currently the top two teams in the world.
Football (9) - Ties are possible but highly unlikely. Overtime rules cost it a point though--I don't like the fact that the losing team might never touch the ball.
Rugby (6) - Again, ties are possible but unlikely in league competition, although they do happen more than in the NFL. In tournaments such as the World Cup, overtime rules include two ten minute periods. Better than a tie, but sudden death would be better.
Big Play Potential
Football (10) - This is football's moment to shine. You never know when the QB is going to throw a deep pass, a RB is going to break through for a huge gain or even when a safely is going to drop a WR cutting across the middle. Good times.
Rugby (8) - You get some big plays, but no forward pass removes lots of opportunity.
Football (3) - And this is football's weak point. You've got offensive and defensive units, linemen, skill position players, etc. All it takes is the ability to do one thing well.
Rugby (8) - Some specialization, but for the most part, every player on the pitch needs to excel as an all-round player.
Football (5) - Rules have to be written to enforce sportsmanlike behavior. Shameful.
Rugby (9) - Tana Umaga, former All Blacks captain, once abandoned a favorable play to check on the Welsh captain who had been knocked unconscious. Pure class. It's a rough game, but the players respect their opponent.
Football (5) - Not really a fan of the Lombardi Trophy. Kinda boring.
Rugby (6) - The Webb Ellis Cup. What is there to say? It's a nice enough cup.
Football (6) - A good deal of the world watches the Super Bowl, but no one else seriously plays football. The American Football World Cup could only attract ten participants, and until this year, when the US first entered the World Cup, Japan had been a two-time champion. Japan!
Rugby (7) - It's not yet soccer's equal on the world scene, but rugby enjoys fairly widespread popularity, although it has been dominated by a handful of countries for most of its history.
Football (9) - I get questions about this all the time from rugby fans, but I still give footballers credit despite the pads. As we learned two weeks ago from Kevin Everett, injuries still happen, even with a helmet and big shoulder pads. Football's hits and collisions are too big to try this game without protection.
Rugby (10) - Some players wear padded headgear, but otherwise players play without protection. And the hits are almost on par with the NFL. High speed collisions aren't as common and tackling rules help, but this is still a violent sport.
Bonus: Best Tradition
Football (3) - I'll go with the Lambeau Leap. Nice to get the fans involved.
Rugby (5) - New Zealand's haka is both a cultural celebration and fierce intimidation. That's Tana Umaga leading the haka in the video below.Add it all up and rugby takes down American football and it isn't even close: 86-73. Football is a great game, but give rugby a try during the World Cup, shown on Versus. Also published at 110 Percent.