Culture Corner, 8/18/23: Football Season Primer

Culture Corner, 8/18/23: Football Season Primer

Hello everyone! Welcome to the very first Culture Corner column, where I’ll be talking about elements of culture that pull from birds as figures or symbols. This will include bite-sized reviews of bird related media, musings on things like state birds, and a whole lot of sports. Which brings me to today’s topic: the 2023 football season, and Bear Sees Bird’s coverage.

In the past, we had a weekly column that covered every American pro sports team with a bird as a mascot with in-depth updates of games. This time around, we’re going a bit more vague and narrative with it: I’ll be opening it up to a little bit of college sports, and focusing on certain teams that warrant more focus. I’ll highlight specific noteworthy things about once a month.

So what’s noteworthy? In the future, it might mean following playoff runs, but for now it means trying to discern what teams are interesting enough to talk about. The NFL has five bird teams and so we’ll keep you updated on all of them, even if it’s brief. Here’s a quick update on where each team stands, from my perspective, as well as a bit of my personal feelings about them:

Philadelphia Eagles: Definitely the best bird team at present, QB Jalen Hurts led this team to the Super Bowl in the 2022 season before falling to the Chiefs. They are seen as a big NFC contender this fall, with Hurts coming off a very lucrative contract extension. I personally dislike the Eagles greatly, based on my interactions with their fanbase and their history with my personal team of choice.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens made the postseason before falling to their division foe, the Bengals. They are considered a strong team that is nevertheless not quite good enough to overcome their Cincinnati rivals.

Arizona Cardinals: Despite having Kyler Murray, an entertaining player that I’m personally rooting for, the Cardinals roster is rated quite poorly and is expected to finish near the bottom of the league.

Atlanta Falcons: Last year, Atlanta surprised many viewers by winning 7 games and briefly looking like playoff competitors off a gutsy run based offense. Now they’ve added electric first round pick Bijan Robinson, and might make a spunky wildcard run. They almost certainly won’t do anything else.

Seattle Seahawks: An absolute mystery, journeyman Geno Smith delivered the Seahawks several wins last year but they remain in transition after their 2010s dynasty came to a disappointing end.

The Eagles path back to the NFC Championship is obviously the biggest story here, although the Cardinals (having traded for the Houston Texans first round pick in the 2024 draft) have a serious shot at obtaining two top five picks, so if they end up as bad as expected, they’ll become a very interesting team to watch as they navigate their controversial contract with Murray and seek to rebuild using substantial draft stock.

Something else to keep an eye on is the Nest Trophy, which is a term used on the online community “r/BirdTeams”, a forum for fans of NFL teams with bird mascots. They’ve tracked every time two bird teams have faced off (what I will probably call "Bird Bowls"), and passed around an imaginary trophy called the Nest Trophy. At a given time only one team can hold the trophy, and it is only passed when that team is beaten by another bird team. Currently the trophy resides in Baltimore, where it’s been for several years. Marooned alone in the AFC, unlike the 4 birds in the NFC, the Ravens don’t face bird opponents nearly as often and have been far safer in protecting their title. However, this year they will have to protect their trophy twice, which is as many bird matchups as they faced in the last three seasons combined. The Cardinals and Seahawks may both be considered worse teams than Baltimore, but they will both get a shot this fall at taking the Nest back to the NFC. We’ll follow this, and other bird-on-bird matchups closely.

Enough with the NFL. What about college? The NCAA is going through immense changes with conference realignments, expanded playoffs, the transfer portal boom, and NIL deals completely changing the landscape of D1 Football. Touching on this in some form seems necessary. However, a lot of bird teams aren’t incredibly worthy of discussion here: they are either a rival of my own school (the Iowa Hawkeyes), possess only a literal mascot character of a bird rather than using it as their team name (the Miami Hurricane and their lovely “Sebastian the Ibis”), rarely do anything of note in football (the Virginia Tech Hokies), or have a generic mascot (the Louisville Cardinals). Obviously I’ll discuss these teams if something important comes up, such as a playoff run, but otherwise don’t hold your breath. So who will be featured?

The obvious choice is the Oregon Ducks. It’s an incredibly fun mascot, and they tend to be a fun to watch program, regularly competing in the PAC-12 in their ugly uniforms. Soon they’ll be coming to my own conference of choice, the Big 10, adding to their potential villain status behind that goofy billed grin. Seeing how they fare in their farewell season to the conference they’ve called home for 108 years is a huge story to follow.

We’ll also check in on the upstart Kansas Jayhawks, who shocked the Big 12 last season by turning their usually-awful football program into a real threat. In an expanded playoff, it’s not outrageous to think that Kansas might be on the path towards eventual contention. If we get the chance, we may also take a look at the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens, who compete in the FCS against other schools nobody watches.

Finally, an unorthodox inclusion: the Egg Bowl. This is a rivalry game that is played each year by two SEC schools who bear no bird connections at all: The Ole Miss Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Each year, these two state rivals go head to head for a golden egg on a wooden base. The egg was created to stop the two fanbases from beating each other up so much (really) but there is no story behind the trophy itself and no confirmation the egg is even a bird egg. Maybe it’s a lizard in there. Nevertheless, I want to write about the egg bowl because it’s a deeply strange and intense matchup between schools who often focus more on hating each other than they do on winning any other games. It’s what college football is all about, meaningless tradition and passion. I’ll cover this game in depth the week of Thanksgiving, and give you some history on its glory.

So that’s where we stand on football for the 2023-24 season. You’ve got a bit of an update on where teams stand and what coverage to expect on them. After all bird teams are eliminated from championship contention, we’ll move on to other leagues around January or February as well as beginning to look at the NFL draft. Thank you as always for reading. Next Friday we’ll be back to my birding column Around the Feeder, where I’ll share some thoughts on birdwatching in the Summer compared to other seasons.