Gridiron Tackles New Zealand

Pawlawski poses with his fallow deer.

Gridiron Outdoors' Pawlawski takes WSU Coach Leach to New Zealand

While hunting in New Zealand, Mike Pawlawski met with the All Blacks rugby team, but he had no desire to get out onto the pitch with the world champions.

“Hell no,” the former pro quarterback said. “My playing days are over. My body knows better.”

“Anyway, you can’t throw those things overhand -- there’s no laces on them.”

Pawlawski decided to maintain his health for arduous bow hunts in the mountains. He took an Awapara ram, a fallow deer and red stag with a bow, while he set up his guest, Washington State football coach Mike Leach, with Alpine Hunting outfitters on rifle hunts for red stag and tahr.

“He’s about as funny at you get,” Pawlawski said. ”He added a completely different flavor on the trip, which was great.”

Pawlawski plans two shows from New Zealand, one focusing on red stag while the other heads to great heights for Leach’s tahr.

“I’ll be hunting ram and fallow deer, and Leach went on a heli hunt for tahr up in the New Zealand Alps – he got dropped out at like 10,000 feet, stepping out of the helicopter on precipices that have 1,000-foot drops. Amazing stuff,” he said. “There will be an interesting piece on communications because trying to get everybody squared away with the camera, and the hunter and guide and the animal, everybody doing the right thing at the right time, it’s quite a challenge.”

While the hunting was epic, with New Zealand’s incredible topography as picturesque backdrops, he said the most striking thing about the country is the people.

“Without a doubt, some of the best people that I’ve met on any of my travels,” Pawlawski said. “They have a sensibility that’s somewhat like I imagine America was like in its formative years.

“Everybody is responsible for themselves; everybody has to take accountability for their actions. It’s an open, liberal society, but you’re also allowed to criticize without being called a hate monger. You can do what you want, but you can also be criticized for those things and nobody cries and whines about being picked on. We don’t get a lot of that in America anymore. Everybody has to be protected. It’d be offensive, considered hate speech.”

Pawlawski also said he was amazed that the All Blacks asked him about American football. Leach and Pawlawski watched the players practice then dined with coaches and shared some football and rugby culture. The All Blacks coaches even picked his and Leach’s brains in an effort to better their program.

“They are always looking to improve what they do,” he said. “They are talking to different coaches about organizational things, about evaluating players, the mentally you take into the game of football.

“They were talking to me as a player about the chemistry it takes, the type of player you want to play with, game-type decisions and off-season workouts, what I did on my own as a player. It seemed to me that they were really open about hearing how we conduct football in America and see what they can apply.”

Although he had no advice on retrieving the ball from a scrum, Pawlawski and the coaches came to agreement that teamwork and chemistry are the foundation to building winning teams.

“Your winning teams are the ones that have the best chemistry, “he said. “How you keep from having prima donnas by having strong leaders who aren’t selfish? They may not be the most talented teams, but if you have really strong leaders who aren’t really all about themselves and improve the chemistry overall, that’s what makes teams play harder. Those leaders showing other players how to work, that’s what it comes down to.”

And that philosophy carries over to any teamwork situation, like producing a TV show.

“It definitely relates to a hunting show for me. You can ask my camera crew – I work those guys like dogs,” Pawlawski joked. “There’s no talent on my show, everybody contributes, everybody is a team player. Often times I’m carrying cameras, I’m carrying tripods, I’m doing the lighting, too. We all pick each other up.”

Pawlawski also picked up some added facts about the history of New Zealand wildlife before picking off a mess of the hated possum. While passing fields of sheep, cattle and managed deer, he learned the islands have zero predators, and the only indigenous mammal is the bat.“Essentially, most of the animals were introduced for food,” he said. “Then the Aristocracy introduced species they liked to hunt, like the red stag. They have these incredible populations that have to be managed through hunting.”

Possums from Australia were introduced for fur trade, but they have overrun the country. There are 30 million in New Zealand, which is about the size of Colorado, and are public enemy No. 1. Drivers will swerve to hit them, people poison them regularly and hunt them with abandon.

Why? Possums kill millions of birds and chicks each year, eat the tastiest parts of trees and have spread bovine tuberculosis to herds, just a blight on the ecosystem. Pawlawski helped quell their numbers in the continuing war against possums that began in 1940s.

“We did do some possum hunting,” he said. “It was raining so the video was not great. It was interesting, definitely interesting. It was so redneck it was awesome.”

Click image to see photos of the hunt in New Zealand.
Gridiron Hits New Zealand

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