Jarryd Hayne: The NRL star doing the hard yards in the NFL

Americans call it football. Australians call it gridiron. For the more than 40 years I’ve lived in Australia, I’ve had to listen to criticism of the most popular spectator sport in the United States.
Budding behemoths with huge helmets and too much padding, playing a 60-minute game that lasts more than three hours, and is too difficult to understand, with too many players on the field, too much hype and too much grandstanding, are just some of the complaints I’ve heard. Some have validity, but I have suggested bewildered friends could watch a game with me, preferably at the pub over a few beers, and ask any questions they want.
It’s an exciting sport, one I played as a teenager and have watched for more than 65 years.
Another person who finds it exciting is Jarryd Hayne, former National Rugby League (NRL) star, now a rookie vying for a spot with the San Francisco 49ers, one of the most successful teams in the National Football League (NFL). He wouldn’t be the first Australian to play for the NFL, but he’d be the first to make it as a running back and a kickoff and punt return specialist. It would mean he would gain yards, score touchdowns and help win games. In two pre-season matches, Hayne has 11 carries for 117 rushing yards. That’s 10.6 yards per carry – five yards is considered above average. The senior reporter for 49ers.com, Taylor Price, talks about Haynes as one of the good results the team learned from the victory over the Dallas Cowboys (Photo above of Hayne being tackled. If you click on the photo on the 49ers’ website, you can see a video of his first run): “Hayne’s first three touches on punt returns went for gains of 27, 34 and 23. The rookie running back showed off nifty cut-back skills on his returns, too. Hayne finished the first half averaging 28 yards per punt return.” http://bit.ly/1MPNs8C
I always thought Hayne would make it, but I wanted to wait until the 49ers made it official. I’m jumping the gun a bit because I think the media is putting too much pressure on Jarryd Hayne. He’s a level-headed 27-year-old superb athlete, but the hype has done in other careers. I’m hoping he and Jason Day can continue to handle the pressure with humour and common sense. I think they can.
While Australians have complained about the stop-start nature of gridiron and the duration of the game, I have always criticised the way Rugby League players have to put the ball back into play after a tackle. They have to pass the ball back with their foot, and this has always reminded me of Trigger, Roy Roger’s horse. When asked by the famous cowboy how old he is, the steed goes “one, two, three” etc with his hoof. Jarryd Hayne will never have to worry about passing the ball back with his foot as long as he makes the NFL.
Hayne has gone into a dedicated training program since he decided to pursue his dream. Despite being a former star in the NRL, he has remained humble. He believes in his ability to make it in pro football, but he’s no prima donna. This is what he told reporters after the 49ers beat America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys: “I’m over here having a crack and doing my best. But I’m still a long way off where I want to be. I want to go into games confident that everything I do, I’m comfortable with. I’m still learning. It’s only my second game. I’m still very fresh. People had a lot of doubts. People are kind of surprised, the way I’m going. But like I’ve always said, I’ve got confidence in my own ability that if I keep learning the game and keep growing every week, I can be an NFL player.” http://bit.ly/1JRGsHK
In an excellent piece yesterday, Will Swanton of The Australian explained how Jarryd Hayne picked up a new nickname in the US: “Midway through the first quarter against America’s Team, he took a towering kick in his fingertips, grabbing the ball over his shoulder while running backwards like Steve Waugh behind the sightscreen at the SCG. The grab earned him a new nickname: The Say Hayne Kid. Sounds clumsy. Huge compliment. It’s in reference to legendary American baseballer Willie ‘The Say Hey Kid’ Mays and his over-the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.” Of course, Mays was also known for his nonchalance in catching a ball as if it dropped in a basket in front of him. An Australian commentator on a Foxtel video said Hayne’s catch was “near impossible.” (You can see both catches on the videos in the SMH story: http://bit.ly/1JhYM9z) Over the shoulder catches are, in fact, de rigueur in the NFL, although this was quite a good reception. Hayne admitted he lost his way for a second and luckily found the ball over his left shoulder. This is where media hype took over.
But the Sacramento Bee NFL reporter Mark Barrows writing in the Sydney Morning Herald was full of hope, as well as full of hype: “Dear Australia: It’s probably safe to buy a red and gold No.38 Jarryd Hayne jersey now. Hayne’s chances of making the 49ers’ final roster jumped again on Sunday in Santa Clara after the former Parramatta Eels star had three more impressive punt returns and another long run when lining up at tailback.”
But the one person who will decide if Jarryd Hayne gets the 49ers’ guernsey is the San Francisco head coach Jim Tomsula: “Having the guts to leave what he knew … he walked away from all that to come do this. That’s what makes this thing special to me. You’ve got a guy who has never played the game. To be in the conversation for making a 53-man roster on an NFL football team when you’ve never played football, there’s the story. That just speaks for who he is.”
Well, coach Tomsula, just one small point. He has played football before, it’s just that he’s never played gridiron. But if he can continue to catch balls like Willie Mays, and sidestep and swerve like the legendary Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown, he will be wearing number 38 for quite a few years. Hayne reminds me of other famous running backs, Jim Thorpe, Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Steve Van Buren (a Philadelphia Eagles’ star in the late 1940s) and the Chicago Bears’ Gale Sayers, to name just a few. Today Will Swanton followed up his piece on Hayne by predicting why he’d make it in the NFL: “He has the 100kg bulk of the power athlete. He has the swiftness of the Olympic sprinter. He covers 40 yards in 4.5 sec. The low centre of gravity is a polite description of the large backside. He has a 37-inch vertical leap. The thighs are tree trunks.” http://bit.ly/1KiRHYy And Swanton points out something else that sets him aside from other would-be NFL aspirants: “The underestimated ingredient is his love of the sport. His lifelong devotion to the NFL has allowed the 24/7 study of the playbook. In his earliest 49ers sessions, clueless about where to stand and what to do, handwritten notes were tucked into his pants.” That’s what I call devotion.
No more hype from me. I think Say Hey Jarryd Hayne will make it in the NFL because he has what it takes, and will do whatever it takes to get there. My prediction: The Parramatta Eels will be leaving their Hayne in San Francisco.
UPDATE: Even Coach Tomsula is trying to stop the hype. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula has admitted to “peeing on” Jarryd Hayne’s parade as he tries to hose down the hype surrounding the former NRL star. This report from Nine’s Wide World of Sports: “Obviously the guy is doing a nice job,” Tomsula told San Francisco radio. “When you think about it it’s kind of cool. I’ve been kind of been peeing on that parade, but you know what I’m saying. We don’t need to put the cart before the horse.”
It is not the first time that Tomsula has attempted to temper the excitement surrounding his Aussie prospect, aware of the pressure Hayne would be feeling. “After his game last week, from what I understand, things got nuts (in Australia). My biggest thing to all that. I really don’t see the need to put anything more on his plate,” he said in the lead up to the Dallas game. “He doesn’t need to try and carry a country on his back, or try to carry crossover athletes and all that kind of stuff. I just want him to focus on football. On the game.”
AND EVEN MORE HYPE: Channel Seven have reportedly entered into talks with NFL media executives to televise Haynes’ matches with the San Francisco 49ers this season. Keen to cash in on the huge interest in the former Parramatta Eels superstar, negotiations were opened after Haynes’ spectacular game against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, News Corp reported. Seven already has exclusive free-to-air rights to show three NFL games each week.

2 thoughts on “Jarryd Hayne: The NRL star doing the hard yards in the NFL

  1. Mr. Krause is self-deprecating to a fault. Awhile back, somewhere past the gates of youth but not quite at the big mist, he and a few affectionados met under the baleful glare of, “The Evil Star,” to watch the SuperBowl, the grand final of American football. Fair to say they were a motley crew. As often is the case however a bond was formed and cemented over hot dogs and beer. In the forty odd years since that first gathering, Mr. Krause has been a regular attendee at The annual Superbowl Shindig attended by a host of hacks and bizoids and he indeed could be found providing succinct comment to any neophyte confused by the complexities of the game.
    Next year is the 50th anniversary of The Superbowl. The Shindig accompanying such may well be the last Hurrah for Mr. Krause and his crew as the only “Hut Two,” passing their lips these days is the grunt heard as they leverage themselves from couch to fridge.

    Then again, it would be a bold soul who suggests that the mist has settled upon their shoulders. Right Kersh? Smithy? Hawkeye? Tommy? There’s still a scrum, excuse me, huddle, to lean into and Sammy’s to imbibe.
    And, who knows, maybe we’ll be watching Jarryd strap on his colours and bring us all to our feet.

    • Dear Mac, Many thanks your kind words and witty comment. The Super Bowl gathering, organised by your good self, is one of the sporting highlights of the year, even though the team I have supported for more than 65 years has never won the Super Bowl. I was thinking the upcoming Super Bowl, indeed will be the 50th Anniversary, and it could well be the Last Hurrah for the Hut Two. If Jarryd Hayne is playing in the Super Bowl, I have a feeling there will be more than the usual suspects banging down the door of the venue where it will be held. But as long as these lips sip beer, I will be there, cheering on the winning team, unless that happens to be the New England Patriots — and unfortunately it usually is the New England Patriots. Maybe, just maybe, one day it might be the Philadelphia Eagles. Cheers.

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