It was a slice of Australian sporting history – but it went largely unnoticed by the 66,000 fans at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and by the millions tuning in to the broadcast across the US.
In the first quarter, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Melbourne punter Jordan Berry, on the halfway line, chipped a 34-yard high ball to the San Francisco 49ers’ Jarryd Hayne who, unlike last week, carefully caught the ball.
It was the first time an Australian has punted to another Australian in a regular NFL game – and for a fleeting moment Australia ruled the world’s richest sporting league.
But the rest of Hayne’s day was far from historic.
He has often described himself as a student cramming to learn the NFL, and his 49ers were taught a major lesson – smashed 43-18.
The Steelers’ offence, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 21 completed passes on 27 attempts for 369 yards and three touchdowns, picked the 49ers apart and the home team’s defence destroyed a fragile 49ers’ offensive line.
The 49ers fumbled, dropped easy catches and watched as the Steelers swatted passes, chopped down runners, repeatedly sacked quarterback Colin Kaepernick and formed an imposing wall along the end zone, repeatedly fending off the undermanned San Francisco offence.
The game could have been a huge opportunity for Hayne.
It was announced before kickoff that 49ers’ punt returner Bruce Ellington was out with an ankle injury, joining running back Reggie Bush as a spectator.
Hayne took the punt return duties and was the number two running back behind the elusive Carlos Hyde.
Then in the first quarter Hyde went down with a leg injury, but continued to play.
In the third quarter, when Hyde was hit hard by safety Mike Mitchell and taken off the field for concussion tests, it wasn’t Hayne but third-string running back Mike Davis who 49ers coach Jim Tomsula turned to.
Tomsula also chose wide-receiver DeAndrew White to catch a third quarter punt instead of Hayne.
Hayne, after spilling his first punt against the Minnesota Vikings last week, was cautious and reserved against the Steelers.
Hayne’s game statistics were tame with just one punt return for seven yards and two carries at running back for three yards.
Berry, who grew up in Melbourne playing Australian rules and was the son of an Essendon AFL skills coach, had a solid game with three punts averaging 44 yards, with a longest of 62.
– with AAP