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Tuesday, August 3
Broncos wake up Down Under

Associated Press

DENVER -- Shannon Sharpe is no expert on the "Land Down Under."

 Jon Ballantyne
Jon Ballantyne poses with a Broncos official after signing his one-game contract.
  SYDNEY, Australia -- The Broncos will follow the lead of next Sunday's exhibition opponent, the Chargers, and give an Australian punter a chance at playing in the NFL.

The Super Bowl champs will give former Australian Football League player Jon Ballantyne a one-game tryout during the exhibition game at Sydney's Olympic Stadium.

Chargers punter Darren Bennett is also a former AFL player and believes Ballantyne, who played for the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe last season, is capable of becoming the next Aussie to earn an NFL roster spot.

"I've had a bit to do with him, and from all I can see he's the next Aussie most likely to crack it," Bennett said.

Ballantyne is the second foreign kicker to get a shot at making the Broncos' roster during the offseason.

Spanish kicker Jesus Angoy joined the Broncos on a free-agent contract less than two weeks ago, but walked out last Thursday after just seven days with the team.

Ballantyne played 29 senior games in the AFL, a league in which long kicking is crucial.

"Kangaroos, koalas and the Crocodile Hunter," the Denver Broncos tight end said. "That's about my extent on Australia."

That should change for Sharpe and the rest of the Broncos, who will play the San Diego Chargers in an exhibition game Sunday in Sydney, Australia -- a contest that will air at 9 p.m. ET Saturday in the United States.

The Broncos are likely to learn a lot about Australia. In turn, Australia will get a crash course in American football.

The country that is home to celebrities such as Greg Norman, Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan, Nicole Kidman and Elle MacPherson will play host to its first NFL game, the American Bowl, Aug. 8 at Stadium Australia.

Getting there was not half the fun.

The Broncos left Denver at 11 p.m. ET Sunday, about an hour later than scheduled. They were flying 2½ hours to Los Angeles before their a 14½-hour flight to Sydney.

Because of the 16-hour time change, Monday did not exist for the players, coaches and the accompanying entourage. They arrived in Australia on Tuesday morning.

It's an itinerary only Rip Van Winkle could love.

"They've told us when to fall asleep," defensive end Harald Hasselbach said. "They'll come around and hand out sleeping pills if you want them, so by the time you get there, you're acclimated."

Hasselbach, who has traveled to six continents, will be making his third trip to Australia. He was part of the Broncos' advanced scouting group that visited Sydney in April.

He also went Down Under in 1997 after winning a nationwide photography contest.

"I wanted to go because that was the only continent that I hadn't visited that's visitable," Hasselbach said. "We loved it. Now that we're going again, I look at this as a tremendous opportunity."

Terrell Davis, the NFL's reigning MVP, figures to be one of the more talented players in Australia this week, but he won't be the most popular.

San Diego punter Darren Bennett is from Australia and the Broncos have agreed to sign punter Jon Ballantyne, an Australian who played in the NFL Europe League.

The pair, as well as curiosity, should help fill Stadium Australia, a 110,000-seat venue built for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

"I think they'll like it," linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "They're big on rugby over there. That's a tough game. You don't wear pads. I think they'll like the excitement and the hitting that football has to offer."

Romanowski will be playing in his sixth American Bowl overall and his second with the Broncos, who have played exhibition games in London; Tokyo; Berlin; Barcelona, Spain; and Mexico City.

"I'm kind of looking forward to it," coach Mike Shanahan said. "I'm not sure about the 16-hour flight of actually getting there. I think it will break up camp.

"I'm sure there's a couple of vets that'll go out and get a chance to see the culture a little bit. I'd like them to do that. I think we can get a lot of work done and have them enjoy themselves."

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