by: By Jill Vejnoska, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Updated:
ATLANTA - NFL playoff games are all about key matchups:
- Offense versus defense.
- Takeaways versus turnovers.
- Falcons versus … osprey?
It’s true. Members of the Seattle Seahawks — that big, supposedly scary team playing the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday’s divisional playoff game here — have the wrong name splayed across their lummoxy chests.
A “sea hawk” turns out to be nothing more than a trumped-up name for an osprey. Which turns out to be nothing more than … well, what are osprey, exactly?
“They’re not real aggressive or fast,” Georgann Schmalz, who taught ornithology for 28 years at Fernbank Science Center, said of the large birds of prey found around water.
“They’re fish eaters,” said Nikki Belmonte, education coordinator for the Atlanta Audubon Society. “They’re very coordinated at catching things with their feet.”
Which should come in handy on Sunday, if Seattle’s pass receivers happen to play the entire game while standing on their hands.
And if — even less likely — the human Falcons fail to mimic their bird counterparts’ natural-born superiority:
“Falcons are built for speed and are very effective predators, especially against other birds,” admitted Mark Myers, curator of birds at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. “However, since I live in Seattle, I do feel required to say that no falcon can beat a sea hawk.”
He was trash talking about the game, of course. And coming up with absolute garbage. After all, the Falcons are undefeated against the Seahawks since 2007.
That dominance will continue in Sunday’s “Angry Birds” matchup. To understand why, check out this tale-of-the-tape comparison of the two teams’ winged inspirations:
Species: Peregrine Falcon
Natural habitat: Open country and large cities. Also: the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons’ NFL-best record gives them home field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl.
Known for: Being the world’s fastest animal. Diving at slower creatures and crushing them with deadly force. “They swoop toward their prey at about 200 mph, level out and … BAM!” enthused James Ballance, curator of birds at Zoo Atlanta.
How that translates to Sunday’s game: Good luck trying to catch speedy Atlanta receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones or Tony Gonzalez, Seattle. Or stopping the Falcons’ sack leader John Abraham from swooping toward his prey (Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson), leveling out and … BAM!
Vehicular namesake: The Ford Falcon, that quintessential American muscle car star of movies (“Mad Max”), TV series (“I Spy”) and circa-1960s Carolina dirt tracks, where it was driven by a young Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt.
Expert says: “The falcon actually has one foot, or talon, up on the sea hawk. Because the falcon is a little smaller, it can maneuver better and it’s faster. And that kind of parallels the football teams.” — The Audubon Society’s Belmonte, a New England Patriots fan, who has no bird, er, dog in this fight
Species: Osprey, aka “Sea Hawk” or — it could be worse, snicker! — “Fish Hawk”
Natural habitat: Lakes, rivers and seacoasts. Also: CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the losing Seahawks will spend Monday morning cleaning out their lockers.
Known for: Being a slower (40 mph), less aggressive feeder. “They flop around above water and just watch for fish,” Zoo Atlanta’s Ballance said. “It’s waiting for an opportunity and then just being in the right place at the right time.”
How that translates to Sunday’s game: Unless all the footballs in the Dome are magically replaced with giant salmon, the Seahawks would be better off missing kickoff and visiting the Georgia Aquarium down the street instead.
Vehicle namesake: The Intex Seahawk Boat Set looks like a small dinghy. And you have to inflate it yourself.
Expert says: “Maybe ‘Sea Eagles’ would’ve been a better name [for Seattle’s team]. They’re very impressive birds. But … so are falcons.” — Myers of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo