Kiwis who made the switch from rugby to American Football


Kiwis who made the switch from rugby to American Football


Widely regarded as the national sport of New Zealand, rugby union has brought much success to the country, including three historic World Cup triumphs. The traditional Māori haka challenge, performed before matches by the national team players, has also become an iconic image in sporting culture. Yet the sporting culture of this country itself is also changing, as people begin to embrace other sporting pursuits, including American football.

Alongside the most popular sports of rugby and cricket, American football has joined soccer in attracting plenty of interest amongst New Zealanders, who regularly tune in to watch major competitions. Many also enjoy wagering on the outcome of top events, looking to find safe online betting sites in NZ to back their favorite teams, eager to discover where the best odds and bonus promotions can be located via reliable reviews.

Indeed, given the shared origins between rugby and American football, it was always likely there would eventually be a crossover of sorts, as both aspiring and established rugby players turned their attention to gridiron. This has led to many notable New Zealanders making their breakthrough in the United States, going on to enjoy considerable success in college football, along with the NFL pinnacle of the sport.

The most iconic New Zealand NFL star

As the most notable New Zealander with Māori roots to make an impact in American football, the name of Riki Ellison requires little introduction amongst fans of gridiron history. Hailing from a family rich in rugby traditions, including ancestors who represented their country with great distinction, Ellis followed a different path due to his father being a diplomat. Following the separation of his parents, he relocated to Arizona with his mother.

Ellis quickly developed a talent for American football and as an aspiring young player, initially at Amphitheater High School in Tucson, Arizona. He then went on to enjoy great success in college football with the USC Trojans, winning two Rose Bowls in 1979 and 1980, along with a national championship. The San Francisco 49ers chose Ellis in the fifth-round of the 1983 NFL Draft, which made him the first New Zealander and Māori to become play professionally.

During his time with the San Francisco 49ers between 1983 and 1989, Ellis won the Super Bowl three times (XIX, XXIII, XXIV) during an exceptional period for the franchise, before playing the final three seasons of his illustrious career with the Los Angeles Raiders. As an impressive inside linebacker, Ellis played 124 games in the NFL, starting 199 and registering 625 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 1 interception and 7 fumbles.

From rugby international to gridiron great

While the career path of Riki Ellison started early due to his upbringing in the United States, the journey for David Tukatahi Dixon began right back at home in New Zealand, where he represented the national high school rugby selection. But as the allure of gridiron became too strong to resist, Dixon started his journey in American football at Ricks College in Idaho, before transferring to the Arizona State Sun Devils.

Dixon was originally chosen by the New England Patriots in the 1992 NFL Draft, albeit as a ninth-round pick and only joined their offseason practice squad, then he was released and picked up by the Minnesota Vikings. By 1993 and seemingly struggling to forge a professional career, he was again released and found himself at the Dallas Cowboys, before they too released him.

Eventually, the right opportunity came for Dixon to establish himself as a successful offensive guard, signing once again with the Minnesota Vikings. After debuting in 1994, he went on to cement his place as an important part of the team over the next ten years, playing a total of 152 games and making 134 starts. In 2019, it was announced that Dixon would be inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, cementing his lasting legacy in the sport.