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Obscure Stats and Bird Watching in the NFL

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The BTB Department of Obscure Stats today brings you a new number to ponder: Fifty Five.

If you're thinking about Sammy Hagar when you read 55, you may be on the wrong blog. If you're thinking Ol' 55, then you're likely thinking about the wrong Eagles.

55 is the number of wins the Cowboys have accumulated in the head-to-head franchise records against not one, not two, but three different teams: The Cardinals, Giants and Eagles.

Cowboys head-to-head record vs.
Cardinals Giants Eagles
W-L
55-28-1 55-38-2 55-43
W-L%
.663 .591 .561

This number is highly auspicious in many ways: 55 = 45 + 9 + 1 (The 45th Super Bowl will be the Cowboys' 9th Super Bowl appearance and the 1st  played in North Texas). Tony Romo has started exactly 55 NFL games in his career. Miles Austin returned the Cowboys' first ever kickoff return touchdown in the playoffs in the 55th postseason game in franchise history ...

But as I sat here pondering the implication of the 55 (and I'm sure you'll have many more examples of the auspiciousness of that number) my mind started drifting, as it is wont to do in the depths of the offseason. Did you notice that two of the teams in the table above have birds as their mascots? No? Time for some offseason 'vestigation!

If you're into ornithology and other avian amusements, the NFL is the place for you. There are a total of five NFL teams named after birds, the Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons, Ravens and Seahawks. With five teams, the NFL is a bird-watcher's paradise, as no other major sport even comes close: The NHL has three teams (The 'Mighty' Ducks, Penguins and Thrashers). Baseball also has three teams named after birds (Blue Jays, Cardinals and Orioles), the NBA has only the Hawks and the only association the MLS has with birds is that it's often called the 'fledgling MLS'.

Let’s now take a look at how the Cowboys have historically fared against teams with aerial avatars:

Cowboys head-to-head record vs. Birds
Seahawks Cardinals Falcons Eagles Ravens
W-L
8-4 55-28-1 14-8 55-43 0-3
W-L%
.667 .663 .636 .561 .000

The combined W/L percentage against 'taloned' teams is 132-86-1 (.603), which is a higher winning percentage than against the total franchise average (.576). With the exception of the Ravens, the Cowboys have done pretty well versus the winged workmen of the NFL. However, instead of looking further into some obscure and no doubt meaningless stats, I have decided to look at these feathered franchises from a decidedly non statistical vantage point.

The State Bird theorem:

There is a popular myth out there that NFL teams with birds for a logo are somehow named for the respective state's official state bird. I say bunk!

I mean, it would be nice if the Minnesota Vikings were named after the Minnesota state bird, the Common Loon (Gavia immer), but they aren't.

Out of our ornithological opponents, only the Cardinals can claim any connection to a state bird. The Cardinals are the oldest continuous NFL franchise, initially established as the Morgan Athletic Club in Chicago in 1898. They were later renamed the Racine Cardinals, and lo and behold, the Cardinal is the state bird of Illinois. However, there is credible evidence that the name has nothing to do with the Illinois state bird. Apparently, the name dates all the way back to 1901 in Chicago, when then owner Chris O' Brian called used, sun-bleached maroon jerseys he bought from the University of Chicago "cardinal red."

Grading the team logos (all logos via sportslogos.net)

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Arizona Cardinals: This is a very angry Cardinal. The Cardinal also wears too much eye liner and his gaze is slanted slightly downwards which suggests this bird suffers from anger management issues and other emotional problems. You would too, if every offseason, reports surface that Matt Leinart will have a breakout season - and he doesn't.

The Cardinal is a bit of a philanderer, and is the state bird of no less than seven states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, N. Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, W. Virginia). Alas, the Cardinals franchise had to move to a state where the only place you'll find a Cardinal is in the zoo. No wonder their logo looks eternally pissed off.

If you're into hidden messages: the red part kinda looks like an 'A', the white part sorta looks like a 'C'. Well, you know: kinda, sorta.

Grade: B
298_medium 299_medium

Atlanta Falcons: The old logo (pictured on the far left, unchanged from 1966-2002, except for a thin red outline which was removed) looked like an old aged black crow on a crutch and with a gimpy wing. The logo was redesigned in 2003 to depict a more powerful and aggressive Falcon. Red and silver accents were added, and the Falcon was slanted to give it a more dynamic forward motion.

The logo is cleverly designed to resemble the capital letter "F" as in "Falcons".

Grade: A-
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Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens had to change their original logo (pictured on the far left, '96-'98) after they lost a lawsuit against someone who had submitted a virtually identical logo while the Ravens were developing theirs, so in 1999 they moved to a Raven with a 'B' stuck to its head. To add insult to injury, this Raven is purple and has a white beak. Somebody call the hazmat team!

Not sure if Edgar Allan Poe was a big football fan.

Grade: D
960_medium

Philadelphia Eagles: Look no further than the Eagles logo to understand their Super Bowl futility: it is the only logo in the league facing to the left, which automatically makes it a sinister logo.

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin didn’t want the eagle as the national symbol of the United States because eagles eat carrion? He wanted a turkey as the national symbol. If only he'd gotten his way, we’d all be watching the Philadelphia Turkeys. Or are we anyway?

The logo on the left has been Philly's logo since 1996. If you look carefully, you might notice an 'E' in the Eagles' neck plumage, hence the need for the logo to be facing to the left.

Contrary to popular belief, the team is not named after the Bald Eagle, the nation's bird. Instead, it is named after the Blue Eagle, a symbol for national recovery in the 1930s. This minor quibble aside, you can't do much wrong if your logo at least looks like the national symbol.

Grade: A-
995_medium

 

994_medium

Seattle Seahawks: Old logo (top left, 1976-2001) and new logo (bottom left, since 2002).

What is it with all these teams that are trying to make their logos look angrier? Are they angry that they're losing? Are they angry because they're in small markets? Or do they think that opposing players will soil themselves when they see such a logo?

Some fans have argued that the old logo is basically a Seahawk or an Osprey that is just looking for a fish while the new logo is an Osprey looking for a fight. Yeah, right. An Osprey in sparkling neon green tights and matching neon green contact lenses?

The original logo cleverly used images from Northwestern Indian art and combined them with the blue and green that dominates the Pacific Northwest on the occasional sunny day. The original gets a straight A, the new logo gets a D- for dumbing down a very original logo.

Grade: D-

Bird Watching Reloaded

If you thought ornithology was a dirty word and were wondering what in heaven's name bird-watching has to do with the NFL, worry no more - these chicks should set your mind at ease:

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016311173_medium Seahawks-sea-gals-cheerleaders_2811_29_medium

Clockwise from the top left: Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Seahawks, Eagles. All images via SI.com