Collier: Strictly for the birds

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All manner of delectable plot lines support the high drama of the NFL conference championships this weekend, some of which might make it into this column, but none is more fascinating perhaps than that we again find ourselves on the very precipice of the first double-bird, all-ornithologically correct Super Bowl.

Perhaps.

Meaning at least to me.

But, look, I know you've thought about this.

Birds are not just your commonly annoying morning creatures such as swallows and woodpeckers, after all. Birds are the most popular animal on the NFL map, with five franchises -- nearly 16 percent of the league -- currently carrying ornithological nicknames, more than even the big cats and more than all the fish, horses and bruins combined.

And yet for all that, for all the long, varyingly distinguished history of the Eagles, Falcons, Cardinals, Ravens and Seahawks in the entire Field Guide to NFL Literature, there never has been a Super Bowl pitting one avian subspecies against another.

It's a joke.

No nationwide search is necessary for who might be responsible for this travesty. He's a local guy, maybe you've heard of him -- Troy Polamalu.

This goes back to the conference championships four years ago, the closest we've ever come to putting two teams named for birds in the Super Bowl.

The NFC title game had a fail-safe flight plan, Eagles vs. Cardinals. But, in the AFC, the Ravens had to deal with the Steelers, who forced three turnovers in the final three minutes (those were the days), the big one a 40-yard pick-6 by Polamalu that put the Steelers up, 23-14.

That was your final.

As it turns out, there are two pretty good reasons there's never been a double-bird Super Bowl.

One is that the AFC had no birds until a murder of crows convened in Baltimore in 1996, nearly three decades into Super Bowl history.

Two is that of the NFC's four avian warriors, all traditionally have stunk.

The Eagles lost four conference title games between 2001- 2008, the Ravens have lost two in the past four years, and the Falcons lost the only game the Eagles won in the same period.

Somehow, all five bird teams have managed to appear in a Super Bowl, but only the Ravens actually won it, spanking the Giants, 34-7, Jan. 28, 2001 in Super Bowl XXXV.

There are two dates that left indelible impressions in the souls of birds the world over: Jan. 28, 2001, the day the Ravens won the Super Bowl, and March 28, 1963, the official release date of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

Anyway, as kickoff looms, the Ravens and Falcons are clear underbirds against the Patriots and 49ers, respectively, but hope soars nonetheless on the wings of but a few realities.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, for example, is 34-6 in Georgia Dome, site of the Sunday NFC title game, including the take-down last week of the Seahawks, who recovered from a cross-country flight and a 20-0 deficit to force matters into the final seconds before crashing. The Falcons are 8-1 in Georgia Dome this year, so all they have to do is forget the 49ers are bringing an NFL-high nine Pro Bowlers, a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who ran for more yards last week against Green Bay than any quarterback in any NFL game ever, and a postseason resume that includes 14 of these conference title games, more than any franchise except the Steelers (15).

The Falcons, it says here, will manage to get this done.

Put one bird in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens, however, are flying straight into a jet turbine engine called the New England offense, currently cruising at 427.9 yards per game, best in the league. The Patriots never have lost an AFC title game at home (4-0) and have an arsenal so deep they barely know its full capacity.

Last week against Houston, they unearthed a running back named Shane Vereen, who caught two touchdown passes and ran for another score, promptly joining Roger Craig and Ricky Watters as the only players in NFL postseason history to do that in the same playoff game.

Worse still for Baltimore, the Ravens appear to have used up their last ounce of luck when they tied the Denver Broncos on a 70-yard pass with 30 seconds left last week. How lucky was that? Joe Flacco's pass to Jacoby Jones behind Rahim Moore was the longest tying or winning touchdown from scrimmage in the final minute of the fourth quarter of any NFL playoff game.

Ever.

I don't think Flacco's got anything like that in his pocket for Sunday, and, even if he did, would he be able to produce it on the same stage where the Patriots laughed while the Ravens dropped a touchdown and missed a tying field goal in the final minutes on this same weekend a year go?

Thus Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans almost surely will uphold the game's unspoken policy: Please, one bird or none.

mobilehome - genecollier

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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