Written by Michael Givant Friday, 11 September 2009 00:00
Nassau County’s entry in the All-Avian Football League (the AAFL), the Not So Mighty Ducks, affectionately known as the “Duckies,” is set for a run at the league’s championship this season. While high flying offenses put fans in the stands, rock ribbed defenses win titles. The Ducks have spent the off-season revamping their defense whose first priority is to stop the run. The passing game, while always dangerous, is secondary because in northeastern winter’s cold, balls are sometimes dropped by frozen feathered “fingers.” Here position by position is the unit that hopes to compete in the league’s championship game, the Feather Bowl, to be played this year at Stillwell Woods in Syosset.
Stopping the run starts with the mute swan who may not say much, but is 60-inches in length with a hose-like neck. The bird at this position has to get past an offensive lineman and hit the runner in the backfield. He’ll cause havoc and fumbles just by stretching out that neck.
The great horned owl has tufted ears, a saucer-like depression that houses its unwavering yellow eyes that slowly open and close and an eerie “hoot-ing” call. Eye to eye with this guy, offensive linemen occasionally become unnerved and forget the snap count.
This position requires size and strength to stop the run as well as a wingspan to deflect passes. The great black-backed gull has the bulk and strength to stop the inside running game. Passing over its 65-inch wingspan is a quarterback’s nightmare.
Speed is needed to get to the quarterback and there is no faster bird than the peregrine falcon. The lineman at this position rushes the quarterback from his “blind side.” This bird routinely dives at 200 mph and can be in an opponent’s backfield before the quarterback takes the snap.
Every defense needs a bird that stands nearly 4-feet in length, with a javelin-like bill that can spear a runner in a millisecond. No bird has more guts than the great blue heron who routinely swallows fishermen’s throwaways covered in sand. He’s an every down player and an All-Avian pick.
This position requires the strength to take on pulling guards and “pancake” inside runners. With its knobby, bald, red head and large, black body, the oddly fearsome, yet homely looking, turkey vulture is an avian “Dracula in shoulder pads.” Its large nostrils help this buzzard to smell the run.
The harrier has the speed and agility to rush the passer as well the ability to drop back in pass coverage. He’ll chase down any outside runner before he can turn the corner. It’s no accident several countries including the U.S. and Great Britain have fighter aircraft named after this slim hawk.
With 28 mph speed, the sharp-shinned hawk is a “shut down” corner. Nicknamed “the bullet hawk,” or “pigeon hawk” it feasts on wide receivers. The “sharpie” can also help on running plays. Running backs feel it when this guy sticks it to them.
The bird at this position covers the offense’s best receiver, The merlin has the speed and agility to cover the best pass catcher and a “magical” ability to intercept throws occasionally held up by a stiff nor’easter. This falcon is a fan favorite at tailgate parties.
The red-breasted merganser, a diving duck, is big and strong enough to cover tight ends downfield. With a conspicuous rusty breast and stylish crest, his photo is on the cover of the team’s program available at every home game.
The multicolored kestrel can hover above the ground, which is crucial to his role as the defense’s “center fielder.” From there he can see the whole field, cover deep pass plays, help with the run or blitz the quarterback. The U.S. Marine Corps is developing a helicopter that bears his name. Need we say more?
Every team needs a goal line defense when the other team is close to its end zone and wants to run the ball for a game winning TD. That’s when most of the defensive backs come out and the big boys, the herring gull, the Canada goose, and the red-tailed hawk come in. This jumbo package is designed to stop the short yardage running game.
Here’s the scenario. With less than a minute left in the Feather Bowl Championship game, played at Stillwell Woods in Syosset, the Duckies hold a tenuous 14-10 lead. Their opponent the Suffolk Bay Gulls have the ball, goal to go at the Ducks 2-yard line. They run three plays with no gain. On fourth down the Gulls break the huddle and walk to the line of scrimmage, steam coming from their breath. The clock is ticking. The Audubon Trophy is on the line. Duckie’s fans are on their feet shaking white picket D-Fences and screaming for their guys to hold one last time.
The Gull’s tailback takes the hand off and starts to launch himself up and over the mass of feathers and beaks. The ball, held outstretched in his wings, needs only to break the plane of the goal line. Simultaneously a wall of muddy, grass stained Ducks rises up and smothers the runner for a loss! The Duckies take over on downs, take a knee and are Feather Bowl Champions! Quacking joyously they douse their coach, a mallard, with the traditional Gatorade birdbath. Ecstatic fans, some with tears streaming down their cheeks, hug each other while others Twitter friends.
The next day Jericho Turnpike is closed from Route 135 to Routes 106 and 107 for Nassau’s answer to New York’s Canyon of Heroes Parade, the Strip Mall Parade. Each Duckie rides atop a solar-powered golf cart while their ecstatic fans throw organic birdseed. After this it’s off to the White House for a photo op with the president. And they won’t need E-tickets to get there.