Falcons take dip with beluga whales during lockout

Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton insists he isn’t bored
by the NFL lockout.

But with just a few player-organized practice sessions
scheduled, the Falcons’ defensive captain took a dip in 52-degree
water with beluga whales Monday afternoon.

”You never think you’d be in a tank with belugas,” Lofton said
with a smile. ”There’s no way, but this is a pretty special day at
the Georgia Aquarium. It’s good to make something productive
happen. We got in our workout early and now we’re here, so we’re
getting stuff done.”

With the lockout nearly 70 days old and showing few signs of
resolution in federal court, Lofton joined linebacker Coy Wire and
defensive end Kroy Biermann in taking a preview of the Georgia
Aquarium’s up-close experience with belugas.

While the Falcons don’t know when they’re going to report to
work, the aquarium’s program opens to the public on June 1.

”It’s a weird time,” said Wire, who serves as the Falcons’
representative to the NFL Players Association. ”We love having a
chance to support the aquarium and bring awareness to this program,
which is incredible.

”But there’s no question it’d be nice to get an idea of when
the season’s going to start.”

Lofton, Wire and Biermann regularly work out together with about
20 other Falcons at a suburban training complex. Before driving to
the aquarium Monday they held their usual morning session. On
Tuesday, they plan to be at a local high school to work with a
group of about 30 Falcons in 7-on-7 drills with quarterback Matt
Ryan.

But instead of returning home to relax Monday afternoon, Lofton,
Wire and Biermann joined a small group of people to learn about the
four pleasant-tempered belugas – the biggest of which Beethoven, a
13-foot, 1,800-pound male who joined them several times to
interact.

The players wore wet suits, stood abdomen-deep in soft boots and
played with pale Beethoven and a gray female.

Nobody’s head or face got wet until the Arctic mammals performed
some tricks, splashed happily away and ate fishy treats.

With marine biologists standing beside the players and several
other aquarium specialists nearby, there was little danger of
Lofton, Wire or Biermann getting injured.

As far as Lofton was concerned, there was no real risk –
relatively speaking. Just 10 days ago at nearby Gwinnett Arena,
Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco went bull-riding.

Ochocinco lasted just 1.5 seconds on Deja Blu, an angry beast
that weighed 300 pounds less than pleasant-tempered Beethoven.

But discussing bulls and beluga whales only makes the specter of
the lockout more clear.

”It really is kind of messing up everything,” Lofton said. ”I
mean you’d like to be on vacation, but you don’t want to be on
vacation and have the lockout end. You want to be ready so when the
lockout ends you can get right to it.”

Wire said players are trying to keep their personal schedules
and body clocks in tune to what NFL teams are usually doing this
time of year.

”I think our organized team activities would be over in another
20 days or so,” Wire said. ”But I think guys are taking their
vacations about when they normally would. Curtis is one of the guys
who’s been working with us for eight weeks now, so he’s ready for
what we call active rest week and let his body regenerate.”

There was plenty of time to regenerate in chilly waters at the
aquarium.

”We’d love to be on the field with our team and start working
on our game,” Wire said. ”But we got in our workout this morning
and now we’re hopefully doing something to help the aquarium and
all the good things they teach here.”