If you’re an American football fan, you already know the big game is just around the corner! To help out those of you who might be more familiar with nature than the details of this sport, I present to you the Wildlife Primer for American Football.
Offensive linemen are like elephants.
Role of offensive lineman: Protect the quarterback and block for the running back.
Role of elephant: Disperse seeds that grow into plants that provide food for herbivores, sequester carbon, produce oxygen and help regulate our climate.
The commonality here is size, which offensive linemen use to their advantage when protecting the quarterback. They also use their understanding of opposing defenses to communicate with each other down the line when a last-second change is made to a play.
Elephants are the largest land animal. They travel in family groups for protection, which sounds pretty similar to how the offensive line works to protect its quarterback. In addition, elephants — just like offensive linemen — eat a lot; they can eat a couple hundred pounds of vegetation every day.
Tight ends are like Cape buffaloes.
Role of tight end: Somewhere between a lineman and a wide receiver. He can block and be the safety net for the quarterback when things go wrong.
Role of Cape buffalo: Maintain habitat by grazing and dispersing seeds, playing a vital role in the savanna ecosystem.
Both are seamless combinations of agility and sheer strength. On the surface, Cape buffaloes look like really big wild cows, so there is nothing to be afraid of because cows are so nice. Tell that to this crocodile. Water buffaloes are fast, strong and aggressive, just like a great tight end.
Wide receivers are like cheetahs.
Role of wide receiver: Use speed to spread the defense and provide a deep scoring threat.
Role of cheetah: Keep gazelles, impalas and other grazer populations in check. Also a “must-see” animal for tourists.
Wide receivers are the stars of the offense. They have tremendous speed to provide a deep threat strike for an offense. The only place in the animal kingdom that you can find that same kind of speed (on land) is the cheetah. Sleek and fast, this African predator can reach speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour and look graceful in the process.
Running backs are like bluefin tuna.
Role of running back: Key to successful offense. Move the ball down the field and allow the team to diversify its offense.
Role of bluefin tuna: Bluefins, as well as other tuna species, are a major source of food for people. Sitting near the top of the food chain, bluefins also provide balance to the ocean by stabilizing the populations of forage fish. High demand and overfishing of bluefin tuna is putting that balance in jeopardy.
Running backs and tuna are both built for speed and endurance. Running backs have to carry the ball fast, blasting through a defense filled with very large men up to 20 times a game. Bluefin might actually be the perfect predator. They are capable of accelerating faster than most cars and can maintain speeds up to 40 miles per hour — all while deftly navigating through the water to track down their prey and avoid their few predators (marine mammals and sharks).
Quarterbacks are like bottlenose dolphins.
Role of quarterback: Runs the offense.
Role of bottlenose dolphin: Like bluefin tuna and other apex predators they regulate balance of forage fish populations, which is vital to the maintenance of healthy, sustainable fisheries.
A good quarterback needs to be the smartest player on the field. A quarterback needs to know what is happening before it happens and then know how to respond. The dolphin is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent animals in the world. A successful quarterback, just like a dolphin, will be intelligent as well as athletic.
Defensive ends are like crocodiles.
Role of defensive end: Provides a strike threat up front, and also has a more important role sealing the edge of the line in a standard defensive formation.
Role of crocodile: Like other predators, crocodiles help maintain the health of their ecosystems — in their case, wetland habitat that supports a healthy fishery for local people.
An excellent defensive end can single-handedly change a game with his voracious attack on the line. They are fast and capable of a quick strike. Like a good defensive end, crocodiles are fast and effective predators. But like defensive ends, they really only get one strike at their quarry — because if you see either of them coming at you, you get out of the way quick.
Defensive tackles are like polar bears.
Role of defensive tackle: Serve as the first line of defense and are key to stopping the run.
Role of polar bear: Apex predator that maintains the health of the Arctic ecosystem, which helps to regulate the global climate.
Defensive tackles can be identified by their gigantic size and position taking up space in the middle of the field. Their job is to claw through the offensive line and block any possible running routes. Polar bears are the largest of all bears, and there is not much that can stop them.
Linebackers are like lions.
Role of linebacker: The glue holding together the defense. What they say on defense goes.
Role of lion: Lions, like other top predators, are key indicators of ecosystem integrity, requiring large areas and herds of prey to thrive. They are also classified as globally threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their popularity makes lions a top draw on safaris, which helps to support ecotourism.
These guys are the big bad boys on the defense. They call the plays for the defense and they are all over the field making plays, coordinating a hunt for the football. Similarly, lions are smart and strong, and they work together as a team to hunt.
Defensive backs are like peregrine falcons.
Role of defensive back: Defend the pass; provide last line of defense.
Role of peregrine falcon: Another top predator responsible for balancing the population of its prey. Has a more proximate relationship with humans than some species on this list, living perched atop skyscrapers in cities and also preying upon animals that eat farmers’ crops.
There is a reason defensive backs are called ball hawks. They use speed to defend the deep passes and can pose an offensive threat when they intercept a pass. The peregrine falcon achieves the fastest speed of any animal on the planet when it dives after prey. Using keen eyesight and expert maneuverability, it can reach speeds up to 124 miles per hour when hunting.
Special Teams Players are like honey badgers.
Role of special teams players: Both receive and defend kickoffs, punts, field goals and extra point attempts.
Role of honey badgers: Though honey badgers are not an apex predator, they take the same role as the other predators on this list: they are part of a well-balanced ecosystem that provide for humans.
Generally speaking, most special team plays result in 21 guys running down the field with reckless abandon to create a running lane or clobber the ball carrier. Special teams are like the honey badger, because they just don’t care. These are some of the toughest animals on the planet. They can survive bites from venomous snakes, which they then eat.
Kickers are like flamingos.
Role of kickers: Games can sometimes hinge on a kicker’s leg. Many teams have lost important games because of a failed field goal.
Role of flamingos: The flamingo provides an amazing display of pink feathers and serves as an inspiration for tacky lawn ornaments across the U.S. More importantly, flamingos create clear water in their aquatic habitats by feeding on shrimp and plankton.
The kicker is the most special of all special players. He gets called into the game to make strategic kicks to either put points on the scoreboard or to make it harder for the opponent to do so. Kickers stand out because they have so much responsibility and because they are typically the smallest and worst tackling members of tackle football teams. They are beautiful and fragile creatures, much like the flamingo!
If you didn’t understand how football worked before, I am sure reading this has cleared everything up.
A former sports writer, Kevin Connor is now CI’s media manager.