(FUN ANIMAL FACTS/WILDLIFE) Super Bowl XLVIII is finally upon us, and this year’s match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos is making history.
This is only the third time in Super Bowl history that both teams have animal mascots. The first time involved the Denver Broncos vs. the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, and the second time being between the Chicago Bears vs. the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. However, the truth behind the history and meaning of Seattle and Denver’s team names may surprise you.
A bronco is a term used in the United States, northern Mexico, and Canada in reference to “an untrained horse” or one that “habitually bucks.”
Derived from the Spanish language, the word broncos, which translates to rough and surly, was originally used to simply refer to the untrained, wild horses of North America who were prone to bucking when first mounted. This was the first-ever term to describe horses prior to domestication.
With time, however, bronco steadily departed from such innocent meanings. In modern days, the word is used to refer to bucking horses used in rodeo events. Commonly mounted by a cowboy, broncos have become a symbol of the Western United States. A silhouette of a cowboy riding a bronco is even displayed on the state of Wyoming’s flag.
There are two different opinions regarding bronco riding. Rodeo supporters maintain the broncos used in rodeo events are well cared-for animals, raised for performing and breeding.
However, many oppose rodeos because they believe the broncos suffer from abuse. Rodeo commissioners and proponents of the circuit staunchly deny that abuse occurs and that there are strict rules regarding the use of the animals.
Yet overwhelming evidence lends to the belief that most rodeo horses are not well-cared for and are often abused or suffer from physical injuries due to events.
Broken bones, fractures, and disease are not uncommon in the industry, and the animals are often transported in highly crowded and unsanitary conditions. Often, harmful tools such as “hotshots” are used on the animals in order to elicit abnormally dramatic responses.
The transformation of an innocent word to one which holds strong connotations of violence, mistreatment, and cruelty has led to a polarization of feelings toward the term.
Bronco remains a highly endeared term for residents of Western states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, and Texas, and has led to the use of the name as a mascot for several sports teams and organizations, including the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos use both a live and costumed mascot. Thunder is a purebred Arabian gelding that acts as the club’s live mascot. Following every Denver Broncos touchdown, Thunder displays his impressive canter from one end zone to the other.
Seahawk is one of the many nicknames for the “Osprey,” a long-winged bird of prey. Ospreys are large white and brown birds who maintain a high position on the food chain. Besides seahawk, an osprey can also be referred to as “fish hawk” or “fish eagle.”
The osprey is the most widespread raptor in the world. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Like most raptors, osprey are migratory. They breed in temperate climates and are particularly suited to catch fish, their primary food source.
They possess a reversible fourth toe which allows them to grasp fish more securely by positioning two toes forward and two toes back. Also, the undersides of an osprey’s feet are covered in spiny spicules which prevent fish from wriggling free.
They plunge feet first into the water to seize prey and may even submerge completely. A little-known adaptation that facilitates these dives is the bird’s ability to close their nostrils.
Osprey are only slightly smaller than eagles. The female osprey is larger than the male and may be distinguished by her brown spotted necklace. They are one of the most difficult raptors to maintain in captivity.
Although ospreys have been on the endangered species lists in most states since the 1970′s, they have successfully increased numbers due to conservation efforts. They are, however, still considered threatened. Ospreys are vulnerable to loss of habitat and organochloride pesticides like DDT.
What’s most interesting, however, is that the Seattle Seahawks don’t even use an osprey as their iconic live mascot. Instead, the Seahawks use Taima the Hawk, who is released as the football team enters the stadium on game day.
Taima is an Augur Hawk or Augur Buzzard, a species quite common in Africa but unknown in North America outside of football stadiums and raptor rehab centers. They actually aren’t even seahawks: they prefer mountains, savannahs, and grasslands.
— Kayla Newcomer, exclusive to Global Animal