King of the Jungle
The Sydney University American Football Club have wasted no time in the 2017 season showing the rest of the competition why they are still the King of the jungle.
Regarded as trailblazers in Australian gridiron circles, the Lions epitomise the old proverb; it doesn’t matter where you start, but how you finish matters. At the start, the Lions only had 3 players. Now, they’re gunning for a 15th consecutive NSW Gridiron championship, so you could say they’ve been finishing strong for the past 14 years…
The club came from humble beginnings in 1984 when 3 Sydney University students, Keith Phillips, Phil Moses and David Little, were looking for a welcome weekend study distraction, when they stumbled across an advertisement in the local newspaper, which was seeking parties interested in joining a gridiron competition. The three young men put the word out around campus and before long the squad had grown from 3 players to 25, all from varying faculties.
Initially known as the Sydney Uni Stormtroopers, the boys took to the field for the first time only a couple of months later, beating the Waverly Raiders 18-0. Ironically, the team was likened to Darth Vader’s imperial soldiers because of their excessive amount of playing kit, which, much like a Storm Trooper’s blaster, was deemed utterly useless. As a result, the students decided that they would play without traditional gridiron equipment for the first year of competition.
From these early days in the mid-80s, the Sydney University American Football Club (SUAFC) would one-day become the benchmark in Australian gridiron. The club’s current dynasty began over a decade ago. 2003 was the start of the Lion’s championship drive that has seen them win 14 consecutive NSW Gridiron titles.
This year, the club is trying to make it 15, and at the moment it’s fair to say their chances are looking pretty promising.
This run of championship victories is similar to what Australians witnessed between 1956 and 1966, when rugby league team, the St. George Dragons won the competition 11 years in a row, a feat that is often regarded as the greatest sporting achievement in the nation’s history.
However, despite operating out of a country that has a relatively niche American football following in comparison to other sports, the Lions have gained international status with their impressive winning statistics. As of the previous season, the men in blue and gold boast a win percentage of 85.9%, comprised of 337 wins, 53 losses, and 5 draws, making them the most statistically successful American football team in existence.
To put this in perspective, the all-time win percentage for the three major gridiron tiers in the United States record the Chicago Bears at 57.4% in the NFL, Michigan University at 73.4% in the premier division of the country’s college football tournament, and finally Valdosta High School at 78.6% in the high school football program. The Lions trump them all.
In addition to the club’s success, there have been many individual success stories along the way to come out of SUAFC. One of these stories is the rise of Conor Foley, older brother of Bernard, a Wallaby, and Sydney Uni rugby club stalwart. Foley represented Australia at the American Football world championships in 2015, where he set a national record picking up 132 running yards in a single game. The running back then went on to play for the Dresden Monarchs who compete in the German league. Gridiron sadly lacks a major following in Australia.
Organising and sustaining any amateur sporting club, especially in a niche code, is an arduous task at best. The Sydney University Lions are clearly an exception to this. They are a shining light in the sport of American football on Australian soil, as well as campus sport.
Sustaining a foundation club for 33 years, and counting, is an achievement within itself, but achieving an 86% win average within that time is truly outstanding. The Lions show that with a little determination and commitment, anything is possible.
The Lions take on the UTS Gators at 4.00pm on Saturday 9 December at Lidcombe Oval in the Girdiron NSW Semi Finals, while the Cubs face off against UTS at 12.00pm. Full fixture HERE.
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