Just for fun: American football vs rugby - who wins?

OK, just a question for you guys:

Which is the harder sport, rugby or American football?

OK, in rugby we wear shorts, shirt and thats basically it.

In American football, you wear helmet, shoulder pads, shin guards, plus padding.

In American football it seems that the worst injury you can incur is to be knocked over by a guy bashing into you.

In rugby the worst injury you can incur is for someone to tackle you to the ground, and then 6 of his teammates trample on you and kick you in the head.

Given a team of American football players vs a team of rugby players, who would get their arse kicked???



We had this discussion in a bar once (where all great discussions take place). The basic thought was that even though rugby players are tough and face more scrapes and bruises, a padless pro US football team would probably run right over them without blinking. Just because they wear helmets doesn’t make them pushovers.

Now if you were talking about a bunch of average guys playing football on the weekend versus some average rugby players, we gave that to the rugby players.

While not 100% accurate, these results were obtained using the best scientific methods available at the local pub.

I’m sorry, but the above sentence is a credibility buster.

Please Google the names “Darryl Stingley” and “Marc Buoniconti”. For less serious – but still quite debilitating – injuries, Google “Joe Theismann”, “Garrison Hearst”, “Willis McGahee”, “Troy Aikman”, and “Wendell Davis”.

Before you start off an American football vs. rugby pissing match, please take a little time to collect some facts.

BTW, I am aware that such injuries also occur in rugby.

If they played rugby, the rugby guys would win. If it’s football, the the football guys win. The two games are so completely different, it’s a no contest either way.

As far as I know (and this is just IMHO), American (and Canadian!) football is actually much more dangerous, simply because of all the armour involved. In rugby, the hardest thing you can hit is the ground, or someone else. While “someone else” can be pretty hard, at least it has some give to it. Plastic, on the other hand, can do some damage.

Plus, a major difference in the two sports is that when tackled, in football, your goal is to move as far forward as possible before play is stopped. In rugby, the goal is to make the ball available for your team to pick it up in a ruck or a maul and carry on. You can practice ways to do this safely. I often cringe watching football players take tackles unsafely in order to get that extra yard, or do ridiculous things to avoid the tackle in the first place because there’s nothing to lose once you’re already tackled. In rugby it’s a distinct disadvantage to do something stupid (and unsafe) because then your team may lose the ball.

Finally, in football people crash into each other a lot. In rugby you can play the ball only, not the player. I once heard it said that football is a ‘collision’ sport while rugby is ‘contact.’ In rugby contact is entered into more carefully with an aim towards placing the ball well (although there is much opportunity for crunching and squishing and twisting of joints), and in football it’s more reckless with an aim of stopping as many people as possible (with all the crunching and squishing and twisting of joints, but with more people involved).

So the answer: take off the padding and the rugby players would kick ass.

… which sport are they playing?

Well, what sport are they playing?

Look, I’ve played both, and anyone who tells you rubgy players are tougher because they don’t wear pads is full of crap. Football players wear pads because the sport involves far more risk of an extremely high speed hit. They aren’t wearing pads to protect themselves against ordinary blocking, they’re wearing pads to protect themselves against a defensive back taking a 25-yard full speed run at you and hitting you dead on at 20 miles an hour, or getting smushed by two linebackers hitting you from opposite sides.

In rugby, direct flush-on full-speed hits and sandwich hits simply do not happen the way they do in football; the nature of the sport is such that there is very rarely a situation where someone will line you up from twenty yards out and hit you dead on. I have seen those things happen, but very, very rarely. The vast majority of rugby tackles are tackles from the side or from behind, where the tackler and tacklee’s momentum are at least partially in synch. Tackles with the tackler hitting a player full on are quite unusual, and sandwich hits are - well, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. In football, however, hits like that happen in every game, usually every QUARTER.

You can survive in rugby without pads. You can’t survive in football without them. That’s why they wear them - remember, football padding was not invented at the same time as the sport. Football wasn’t conceived as a way to play rubgy without pads - originally football players wore little to no padding at all. And yet, strangely, football padding and armor has developed all the same, and was simulataneously adopted by both the NFL and the CFL, which have been separate leagues for damn near a century, AND all the colleges. So unless you’re going to claim that through some weird genetic fluke, football players have been getting weaker and their bones have been getting softer or something, you have to concede that the growth in padding and armor has been an evolutionary response to the needs of the players. An unexpected consequence has been that more armor has resulted in the game getting even faster and tougher - for instance, players spearing with their helmets.

Both sports are very tough and dangerous. Arguing over which is tougher is sort of like arguing who’s faster, sprinters or speed skaters. Speed skaters are not slower by virtue of using extra equipment on their feet. One may have tools to make them fast but that’s just because of the nature of the sport.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. You can play and survive football without pads, me and my friends did it every weekend. It’s kind of a chicken and eggs thing. Modern pro and college football needs the protection for a level of safety the way it is played now. But the Modern game developed developed the way it did because of the equipment. Like I said, me and my freinds played a lot of football without pads, same basic rules, but a slightly different game. Without pads don’t try to hit someone hard, because you get a hard hit back, and it hurts like hell. You tackle by grabbing and pulling down, not be trying to create an impact.

The armor made it possible to hit someone really hard, without much pain to yourself, and that it what the game has become based around now, but I don’t consider that to be fundamental to football itself.

As an ex second row, I can observe that American footballers don’t have to face anything quite as troublesome as greasing down their ears and jamming their head between the thighs of a prop and a hooker!

IMO, the lack of blocking in rugby makes it a more “survivable” game. If you don’t have the ball, you shouldn’t get hit. If you have the ball, you KNOW you’re gonna get hit.

Rugby also is somewhat of a more fluid game, as opposed to American football’s brief flurries of activity followed by periods of inactivity. Which may require more stamina.

Had a friend once whose brother was drafted by the Seahawks (football) and the Phoenix Suns (basketball). He left football camp after a very brief stay saying it was crazy because "They teach you to injure the other guy."

In my experience in rugby, most tendencies towards excessive violence or cheap shots were tempered by the possibility of payback given that there were so many things the single ref could not see.

With respect to how easily one can ‘survive’ football without pads, take a read of this

From here. Tough game.

Yeah, not really a very answerable question. In terms of physical toughness, stamina, and skill, the sports have quite different requirements.

Like some other predominantly North American sports–baseball, for instance–American football is a far more specialized game than rugby. Each position, with a few exceptions, has a much more tightly circumscribed set of roles in American football. If you’re on the offensive team, chances are you’ll hardly ever have to tackle a guy who’s carrying the ball. Conversely, if you’re a defensive lineman, you might go a whole season without ever getting your hands on the ball during a game.

In rugby, by contrast, everyone gets to carry the ball at some stage, and everyone has to make tackles. Not only that, but the kicker–gasp, shock, horror–actually has to be a player on the team, not some guy who gets brought on for ten seconds when a field goal or an extra point is needed.

American football can have huge, 300+ pound guys on the field because these guys are required to do only a limited amount of running. Such big guys probably–strike that, definitely–couldn’t keep up with the pace of play in a typical rugby match. With the exception of a few props, the biggest rugby players tend to be leaner, lighter, and faster than the biggest NFL players. The constant stop-start of an American football game, with all the time-outs and changeovers, makes even the slowest rugby match look lightning-fast by comparison.

The different rules about hitting in each sport also leads to different types of skills. As others have noted, if you don’t have the ball in rugby, you generally don’t have to worry about being hit. This is not the case in the NFL, and knowing where all the safeties and corners are, and being able to get clear of them, is a key skill for a wide receiver. The ability to leap and take amazing catches, as many NFL receivers do, is also something not seen very much in rugby.

In rugby, on the other hand, a key skill is the ability to create gaps and overlaps through speed, power and strategy, because the ball can only be thrown backwards. Also, because the ball remains “live” even after a tackle has been effected, there is considerable skill involved in keeping the ball in the hands of your team. Kicking in general play is also an important skill in rugby.

From a strategic viewpoint, rugby is also considerably more spontaneous that American football. While the coaches in rugby might plan an overall strategy, and send out messages onto the field during a game, they do not make the play-by-play calls in the same way that NFL coaches do. The idea of the scrum half or fly half listening to a sideline coach before every scrum or lineout for a play call is totally foreign to rugby.

That’s silly. Hard in what way? In terms of how hard you get hit? American football. In terms of the amount of abuse the body takes? Probably American football.

No shin guards.

That’s just silly. American football is ridiculously brutal, even with the pads. In 1978, Jack Tatum hit Darryl Stinley so hard that Stingley’s neck snapped and he was left a quadripalegic. In 1985 Marc Buoniconti suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a quadripalegic. Joe Theisman had his leg gruesomely snapped in two places with the bone sticking out through the skin. Willis McGahee has three knee ligaments shredded during last year’s college championship game. Troy Aikman once suffered two concussions within 8 days, and 10 concussions over a 12 year career.

Concussions, spinal injuries, damaged ligaments, etc. are not rare in football.

Playing what game? Although, I do think that American football players would fare better in rugby than rugby players would playing American football. Like someone said, American football is a lot more specialized and I don’t think that a line of rugby guys could hold against a defensive line of footballers. And I don’t think they would be expecting to get hit from behind by a 270 pound man running full tilt with no warning while they were just standing in the pocket. Plus, they could never get the hang of the forward pass in time.

Meanwhile, I think a team composed of linebackers, safeties and running backs would do respectably in rugby once they got the rules down. They wouldn’t win certainly, and stamina would most definitely be an issue, but it wouldn’t be a complete disaster.

In terms of inflicting injury, it would be the American football players doing most of the damage because that’s how they are taught to hit.

And indeed this may be illegal in many states. :slight_smile:

And conversely the fastest NFL players are probably speedier than the quickest Rugby players. Bearing in mind that I’m no expert in Football, but I understand that some of your players are essentially sprinters, whereas to play 40 minutes each way with few stops is more like middle-distance running.

As is stopping play for commercial breaks. Aside: this one completely floored me – watching a college game in Iowa – the other Kiwis and I couldn’t figure out who the guy in the white overalls was, and why play stopped when he walked out onto the field.

In terms of defensive hits I don’t think either game would offer much competition to Rugby League. Because at the play the ball the two teams are over 10 metres apart, league tackles are routinely the guy with the ball running flat out into one or several big guys running the opposite way. Rugby with the last foot rule is like league with the defense 1 metre back. The contact at the line of scrimmage is more like wrestling than tackling.

Ah, but that’s the key isn’t it? Since rugby players don’t wear padding (ok, some minor padding for the league guys) and full head-gear (some rugby players do wear thin padding to reduce concussion injuries) not only is the tacklee in danger, but the tackler has to worry about proper body position and not diving head-first into the other guy. Concussions from head clashes isn’t uncommon, and until coaching was improved there used to be a few spinal injuries every year, especially in high school games.

Any while the NFL guys may be faster/stronger/tougher, I wonder if they could sustain it for a full 80 minute game. Until a few years ago, a gentlemen’s agreement in rugby union didn’t allow tactical subsitutions unless the guy was carted out on a stretcher, but that doesn’t stop some guys.

As for a game between the two codes, it’ll probably take about three months to hammer the rules into the thick skulls of both teams. :stuck_out_tongue:

It is basically a nonsensical debate, but I would point to the following statistics as the gauge for which sport is harder:

  • Average length of pro career
  • Average # of injuries per career
  • Average # of surgeries required during career
  • Average # of surgeries required after retirement

I think, if someone were industrious enough to dig up those stats, that football would be shown to be “harder”.

This argument is always trotted out, despite it not making sense. (It usually comes up in the Soccer vs Football debate.)

Basically you are saying that as long as they don’t stop, it’s faster and involves more action. By the same argument, marathon running is faster and has more action than boxing.

I would counter with one of my “shorties”, which was a short-lived experiment I did last season. I taped several games, including the Superbowl. But I paused during all stoppages, so the tape goes straight from the line of scrimmage to about 5 seconds after the whistle blows and back to the line of scrimmage. The entire game lasts around 30 minutes. (Of the 4 games I tried this on, they lasted 27, 28, 31, and 32 minutes.)

Now, the end product was, to me, mind-boggling. You really can’t appreciate the true speed of the game until you see it presented this way.

On the advice of a fellow doper, I watched a rugby game a short while ago. Granted they may have been awful players – I have nothing to compare them against – but they were professional teams from some league. And the commentators said things like “great game” and “we had a little bit of everything”, so I assume it wasn’t the worst played game of all time. (I did enjoy it. Pretty good action.)

But the speed of the action was nothing compared to the NFL. There was just 2-3 times as much of it. But the action itself was barely half the speed of the NFL. Tape a drive or two of any NFL game using the “shorty” method and you’ll see what I mean.

I would liken the comparison to the 100 meter sprint versus the 300 meter sprint. Sure, the 300 meter guys stay out there longer, but the 100 meter guys just flat out move faster.

Note: The actual way I taped the “shorties” is as follows. Pause until the players are lined up and the broadcast goes to the main camera angle. Once you feel they will hike in about 2 seconds, unpause and start recording. (You get a feel for the QB cadence pretty quickly.) When the whistle blows, wait for the announcer to finish his sentence if he’s not rambling, then pause. Try to do this pause before they cut away from the default camera. Repeat.

Yup … and I even forgot to mention Mike Utley and Dennis Byrd. Byrd eventually learned to walk again, IIRC.

Heck, there’s even a fair number of fatalities in American football, although a lot of those come from training in full pads in heat. But some are caused by the same collisions that cause the spinal injuries. And some of the leg injuries are incredibly severe and truly gruesome to watch. It’s probably more rare to have an American pro game without a major injury (one that requires the player to miss at least two or more games) than to have one without that.

True, Shibb, but I’m unaware of any fatalities past the high school level from hits in the last 50 years. Am I wrong?

Per this study, there were 85 deaths in college football from 1931-2002, of which 31 occurred from 1965 onwards. These are deaths listed as “directly related” (tackling, etc) to football, versus “indirectly related” (heatstroke, etc). Total deaths for all football in that period is just under 1000. There was one “professioal” directly related death in 2002 (includes semi-pro). The last one before that was 1972. The last college direct death was in 1999. There were three high school deaths last year, and 1 in “sandlot”. I’m not sure if sandlot means non-organized or youth.

  • Source: National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research

All sports were much, much more dangerous then than now. Safety in sports just wasn’t a going concern. To use another example, in 1896, baseball was pretty much a full contact sport, and had substantially more fistfights than hockey does today - in fact, it wasn’t all that uncommon for players to get into fights with umpires.

My wife is a big fan of “Little House on the Prairie,” and a few months ago we were watching an episode where the local guys are playing a game of baseball against some rival town, and the game gets progressively rougher and finally ends in a bloody all-out brawl. I commented to Mrs. RickJay that it was the most realistic depiction of 19th century baseball I’ve ever seen. It was, too. Absolutely spot on.

You can say the same about any sport of the time - look at what boxing was like then. Hockey was just like football, more guys on stretchers than on skates. Football at the time was just an incredibly violent sport, absolutely appalling. People were being seriously injured and killed on a regular basis.