It’s a longstanding question and one that has no definitive answer; can American football players hack it in rugby or vice versa?
Lovers of rugby will say that NFL American Football players lack the stamina to play over 80 minutes while NFL fans may feel that rugby players lack the tactical discipline to succeed in American football.
And while those statements may be true for some players, there are a few who have proven otherwise. Of them, here are a few of the players that enjoyed successful stints in both sports.
Yes, believe it or not, the Scotland and British and Irish Lions legend Gavin Hastings played for one season with NFL Europe team, the Scottish Claymores.
He played for one season in 1996-97 and was the placekicker for the team. In his one season as an American Football player, Hastings managed 24 out of 27 conversions – which is a pretty decent record.
The Claymores won the World Bowl that season but Hastings was then released.
We wonder how things would have gone for him had he flown stateside. Hastings was, of course, playing in a time when rugby in the UK had yet to turn pro, and the opportunity to play professional football in the NFL would, no doubt, have been quite tempting.
Yet, no offers came, but we like to think he would have done okay for himself.
Tardits is a former American footballer who was born in France. He played rugby for Biarritz Olympique and represented the USA at the 1999 World Cup winning one cap. His biggest success though came in the NFL where he played for the New England Patriots and the Phoenix Cardinals.
Tardits was called Le Sack as he was a bit of a specialist once holding the record for most sacks in a career at the University of Georgia. In his prime (when he had plenty of money) he also sponsored a semi-pro American football team back in his hometown of Biarritz. He never won the Super Bowl though, unlike our next man on the list.
Nate Ebner is perhaps the most famous on our list and a name that you’ll no doubt hear on the news in the coming weeks.
His New England Patriots team are in the Super Bowl, fact which was predicted by many bookmakers. In fact, the odds for the Patriots to win were just 5/1 way back in September, and now Ebner looks set to win his third Super Bowl ring.
Ebner also holds the distinction of being the only active NFL player to play at an Olympics – when he represented the United States of America in rugby sevens, at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. He played well scoring two tries, but the USA eventually finished in 9th place.
The example he has made, transitioning between each sport demonstrates what type of athlete is required to cope with the demands of the two types of football players.
Smith, who was twice on the books at Saracens, took a punt on the NFL in 2012. He trained with several teams and was eventually signed to the practice squad for the New York Jets (see team in green and white below). He made the active roster later that year and played competitively but, Smith was released in 2013.
In his time in the US, he only received one pass in an NFL game. Now that might not sound like much, but when you consider that many players never even make it out of the practice squad, it’s pretty impressive.
Not quite the success story we had hoped for, but he gave it his best shot and on his return to England, Hayden Smith signed up with Saracens again. He helped them win the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final in 2015 beating Exeter Chiefs. Smith also played for the US national rugby team and won caps in the 2014 Pacific Nations Cup. He now plays for Esher RFC in National League One.
Can American Football players hack it in Rugby? or vice versa?
There have been others who have made the move from the NFL to rugby union and even from rugby league to the NFL. But most of those players never made it beyond the practice teams, to break into the active roster. Hastings and Ebner though has given us food for thought.
Could we see a Jonathan Sexton or Owen Farrell taking field goals in the NFL someday? It’s highly unlikely, but if it happened, fans would gladly stay up late to watch it.
“Main photo credit – Creative Commons”