James Alan Hird (born 4 February 1973) is a retired Australian rules footballer and the former captain of the Essendon Football Club. A long-time captain of the Bombers, Hird was admired not only for his on-field bravery, but his exceptional ability to anticipate the course of play. With _Umpiring_Comments, he is universally respected for his good behaviour on and off the field, and has been an articulate, effective spokesperson for his club in extensive media work. He suffered serious head injuries in a collision with teammate Mark McVeigh in May, 2002 which almost forced him into retirement, but he recovered and continued to play a vital role in the Essendon team. He was known for his accurate kicking and his brilliant snaps on goal, such as the famous goal against West Coast in Round 3 2004.
In his first season, 1991, Hird sat on the sidelines for most of the season with constant injuries hampering him. He was becoming disillusioned, but persistence from coach Kevin Sheedy convinced him to remain with the team. He made his senior debut in 1992, while spending most of the season in Essendon's reserves, which, under Denis Pagan, won the premiership that season. He achieved regular selection in the Essendon senior team during the 1993 season. In that season he was a member of what was referred to as the "Baby Bombers", a group of young players (most notably including Hird, Mark Mercuri, Gavin Wanganeen, Dustin Fletcher, Ricky Olarenshaw, David Calthorpe, Paul Hills and Joe Misiti) that played a key role in the side winning the premiership that year. In 1994, Hird won the first of three consecutive best and fairests, culminating in his 1996 season, where he was jointly award the Brownlow Medal for the League's fairest and best player with Brisbane Bears half-forward Michael Voss.
The following season's Grand Final was a disappointment for Hird. He played poorly and his post-match congratulatory speech to the victorious Brisbane Lions was considered to be ungracious. 2002 then saw Hird's worst injury, an horrific facial injury sustained when he collided with teammate Mark McVeigh's knee, breaking or fracturing all but a couple of the bones in his skull; Hird was in hospital for a week and missed several weeks of the season.
In 2003, despite again missing eight games through various injuries, Hird tied in the Essendon best and fairest with Scott Lucas. He also narrowly missed out on a second Brownlow Medal, finishing three votes behind the winners. He was rewarded with a place in the 2003 All-Australian team.
The matter by-passed the AFL Tribunal, and the punishment Hird would receive would be determined directly by a meeting of the AFL Commission. The Footy Show airs on Thursdays, and the AFL Commission was not meeting until the following week; as such, Hird was allowed to play in the Round 3 game against the West Coast Eagles (see Memorable Games).
On the following Wednesday, 15 April, the AFL Commission handed down its penalty to Hird. He was fined $20,000, and forced to contribute to a 3-year umpiring development program; the Commission decided against suspension. Hird accepted his sanction and expressed remorse for this actions. In further controversy, Scott McLaren was one of the umpires rostered for the Essendon vs Carlton game the following Friday night. The pair shook hands at the commencement of the game, bringing closure to the issue, but Carlton fans were particularly hostile to any free kicks given by McLaren to Essendon.
Hird continued to be an outstanding performer in his utility role when fit, but age was forcing him to miss games through injury with increasing frequency. He suffered broken ribs and a calf strain during both his 200th and 250th games, respectively.
Hird played two farewell games: his final game in Victoria at the M.C.G. against Richmond, and his final game overall at Subiaco Oval against West Coast. The games were made higher profile as they were also the final games coached by 27-year coach Kevin Sheedy. Hird was one of the best on field in his final game, amassing 34 disposals, one shy of his career high. As Hird and Sheedy left the field for the last time, the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
His most memorable performance is universally considered to be the Round 3, 2004 game against West Coast - the game immediately following his umpiring comments controversy. It was a close, high scoring game, remembered as one of the best games of football for several years, particularly for its final quarter. To three-quarter time, Hird had 19 disposals and one goal; in the final quarter, he managed 15 disposals and two goals, the latter of which was most memorable. With the scores level at 131 and very little time remaining, the ball was bounced in Essendon's forward pocket, tapped to the boundary line side, roved, and neatly handpassed to a goalward-running Hird, who slotted it through from 30m on an acute angle for the game-winning goal. In the emotion of the moment, he ran to the fence and hugged the first fan he saw, a young teenage Essendon fan. This was the focus of a popular television commercial installment, Toyota Memorable Moments. Controversially, Hird received no Brownlow Medal votes from the umpires for his 34 disposals, media speculation being that the umpires deliberately snubbed him because of his comments; the votes went to Matthew Lloyd (three votes, seven marks, eight goals), Ben Cousins (thirty disposals, three goals), and eventual Brownlow medallist Chris Judd (twenty-three disposals).
In Essendon's horror 2006 season he returned one week early from a minor injury to lead his side to a drought-breaking win over Brisbane in round 17, 2006. It was Hird's first match since round 13 against the Kangaroos and the Dons' first win since April Fools' Day of the same year.
He was a champion and always will be remembered for being one on the football ground.
Hird completed a degree as a civil engineer in 1998, and in that capacity has worked as a consultant on the CityLink project. He is now involved heavily in football-related media work, but he has also spent time working for a stockbroking firm Hird also owns a Melbourne restaurant called "Red Mullet" and is an active partner in "Gemba" - a sports marketing and media consultancy firm based in Melbourne.
In 2005, Hird appeared in one of the first two Toyota Memorable Moments advertisements with comedians Stephen Curry and Dave Lawson. Hird recreated his game-winning goal against West Coast (see Memorable Games), with the fan he hugged replaced by a random groundskeeper