Footy in Bakersfield, California, pretty much came to a standstill in the second half of 2006 as Barbarians founder Leigh Hickling was unable to dedicate as much time to the game. He remains keen to keep the sport alive in the inland city of 300,000 people (with around 400,000 more in the greater surrounding area of Kern County), but with a small player base thus far, it was a tough year for the fledgling club.
In USFooty 2006 was the year of the Lion. The San Diego Lions completed an undefeated season by dispatching perennial champions the Denver Bulldogs at the USFooty National Championship Tournament in Las Vegas on October 8. Their year began well with 11 players (5 Australians and 6 Americans) representing the club in the first ever Australia-Revolution game for G'Day LA Week in early January. With that initial start, the San Diego Lions web page predicted: "2006 will be the Year of the LION". The club went on to defeat the Dallas Magpies and Golden Gate Roos, before winning the first Western Regional Tournament in San Pedro, CA with wins over the Arizona Hawks, the Orange County Bombers and the Denver Bulldogs, defeating Orange County in a home and away series and then hosting and winning the second Western Regional Tournament with wins over Denver, Las Vegas Gamblers, and Orange County. Their home stretch was a win over the Dallas Magpies and then going undefeated at the USFooty National Championship Tournament in Las Vegas with wins over the Golden Gate Roos, the Boston Demons, the Milwaukee Bombers and defeating the Denver Bulldogs 33 to 12 in the National Championship game.
West Perth Falcons Senior player Brett Cousins has returned to Australia after six months with the Milwaukee Bombers. Cousins, a 100-gamer and premiership player for the storied West Perth Falcons helped Milwaukee to their first ever Mid-American Australian Football League (MAAFL) Championship. Brett's stint at Milwaukee is the first stage of a two-way exchange program between the two football clubs. Recently, James and Jared Brunmeier joined West Perth from Wisconsin to play the 2007 season. So far the exchange program has been a great success. According to USFooty and Milwaukee Bombers Founder, Paul "Plugger" O'Keeffe, "I hope to see 30 Brett Cousins playing in the US and 30 Brunmeier brothers playing in Australia each year."
Australian punter Ben Graham has continued his excellent form for the New York Jets in the NFL, averaging 44.3 yards, slightly above the league average - a top result in his first full season. A longest kick of 69 yards is another impressive result. Two more long kicks weren't counted in his stats due to team penalties.
The 2006 Canadian footy season was marked by progress in some areas and setbacks in others. Two clubs, with players from five sides competed at the US Nationals. Several clubs had difficulty fielding a side, others folded, but there was some expansion with at least two full clubs starting play next year. However, this still leaves AFL Canada with fewer sides than at the end of last year.
For some great video of the 2006 US Nationals you can once again go to the MyKwebTV site www.MyKaussie.com. The footage focuses on the Canadian teams at this year's nationals, the Calgary and Vancouver teams, but also features numerous interviews with players and special guests as well as a number of the US teams.
The 2006 US Nationals have been run and won in Las Vegas. This year saw some new clubs taking out titles or rising up the rankings, but in the end it was regular west coast powerhouse San Diego that managed to snap Denver's stranglehold on the top ranking.
As the Canadian Football season draws to a close, the action promises to get only more intense, with big weekends for footy in all three active provinces, plus the important search for a coach for the national side.
The 2006 US Nationals are on this weekend in Las Vegas. As has been the case in recent years, there will be three mens divisions competing for national titles. Pleasingly there will also be a women's division to build on last year's successful inclusion of women's footy in the tournament. AFL celebrities have been organised and the AFL's head of Game Development will also attend. Staging the Nationals in Vegas has been a bold move by US Footy, and as usual there has been plenty of controversy, ranging from seedings to the inclusion of Canadian teams.
Former AFL player Ben Graham is just beginning his second year in the NFL, playing American football. Remarkably on September 6, at a Captain's Day function held by his club, the New York Jets, he was named as one of their six captains for the upcoming season.