Here at The Comeback, Australian Rules Football is one of our favorite sports from around the globe. We’ve written about its virtues before and it has a cult following in the United States dating all the way back to the 1980’s when it was classic late night viewing during ESPN’s early years. But never before in the history of the AFL has it been as relevant stateside as it will be this year when Collingwood plays West Coast in the Grand Final.
That’s because the biggest X-factor in the biggest game of the year just happens to be a bloke from Texas who was a walk-on for the Oklahoma State basketball team.
The story of Mason Cox is the stuff that movies are made about. Back in 2014, Cox took part in an AFL combine for American athletes, specifically basketball players who are tall and athletic and a perfect fit for the ruck position. The task of the ruckman is to tap the ball down to his teammates at any restart or stoppage in play and can make a huge difference in any side. And the AFL has found that basketball players have a natural skill set that can cross over and have been actively recruiting stateside for a few years now. It’s the stateside equivalent of colleges actively recruiting Australians to punt after the success of AFL-NFL stars like Ben Graham and Darren Bennett.
In fact, Cox was viewed as the athlete with the most potential to cross over to the AFL game after that combine. He was called the “absolute standout” and was quickly signed as a developmental prospect by Collingwood. After spending time in the reserve teams, Cox made his debut for Collingwood in 2016, becoming the second born-and-raised American athlete to make it all the way to the AFL following Jason Holmes’ debut in 2015 (Holmes played basketball at Morehead State and Mississippi Valley State and made five appearances for St. Kilda.) He also instantly became the tallest player ever in the Australian game.
Cox immediately made his mark in his first match – the Collingwood-Essendon ANZAC Day game that amounts to the NFL’s Thanksgiving tradition as the biggest game of the season. In the first minute of the game, Cox took his first mark and kicked a goal with his first kick of the footy in front of more than 90,000 fans.
Just making it to that point and kicking that goal could have been the climactic Hollywood ending. But incredibly, defying even the most optimistic hopefuls, Cox has played an even bigger role for Collingwood this season. He appeared in 22 games for the Magpies and kicked 20 goals as he moved from the ruck position to the forward line.
Cox’s best game again came on the biggest stage. In the Preliminary Final against defending champion and top seed Richmond, Cox kicked three goals in an eight minute span in the second quarter to inspire the Magpies to the upset victory. He also made a significant impact around the ground by taking eight contested marks throughout the game.
Cox even had the Collingwood fans breaking out into “U-S-A” chants like it was the Ryder Cup or the Olympics.
The crowd erupts with the U-S-A chant!
— AFL (@AFL) September 21, 2018
The big question is whether or not Cox can follow up his prelim performance with a starring role in the Grand Final. Collingwood has already lost to West Coast already in the first round of the finals (the AFL uses a system where the top four teams play each other in the first round and the winners receive a bye into the final four) and Cox’s presence was largely neutralized by the Eagles.
Cox has already been one of the most unique and incredible stories the game has seen. If he’s able to play a starring role in the Grand Final for Collingwood it would make it even better. And it might even inspire more American athletes to follow in his prodigious footsteps.