FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It may not come to a cable network any time soon, but with the prevalence of reality television these days, how about this offering? Matt Bryant: The Alligator Whisperer.
You really can't make this stuff up.
Bryant, in his fourth season as the Atlanta Falcons' kicker after four seasons with Tampa Bay, has learned to mimic the distress call of an alligator. It works to draw the reptiles out from bodies of water, and he has gone as far as to lead them around golf courses as they investigate the sound. He'll stop near the green to allow a group to putt out, of course.
He has used the ability to amaze family, coaches, players and strangers. So, if Bryant ever asks: 'Want to see a trick?' one best beware.
"I've had fun with it," said Bryant, who gets a lot of practice at his home in Florida, where he says you can find a reptile in any standing water.
Kickers are known to be an eccentric lot. When he was with the Falcons, Morten Andersen kept a written record of every kick he has made, in games and practice, dating to 1990. The Giants' Lawrence Tynes hand-washes his car before big games. Former USF kicker Bill Gramatica once tore his ACL celebrating a first-half field goal for the Cardinals.
Look what happens when Bryant spends time watching the Discovery Channel, when he isn't kicking for the Falcons.
The retention pond behind his house in Tampa was the testing ground. Bryant's wife noticed a small alligator, so he made the noise. The creature started to follow Bryant's wife. When Bryant had her stop, the alligator continued toward the noise.
"That's when I figured out he was coming to the sound," Bryant said.
There have been scary moments. While golfing in Cancun, Mexico, Bryant asked members of his group if they wanted to see a trick after hearing something splash in the nearby mangroves. He made the call, and all surrounding noise immediately ceased. The very large head of a saltwater crocodile emerged from the water. He stopped, and they quickly moved on.
"I knew I could do it here in America, but I didn't realize I could do a Spanish version as well," Bryant said.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can relate a firsthand account. This year, several players and coaches were playing golf in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and staying at the home of owner Arthur Blank. After talk of Bryant's ability, someone noticed an alligator in a pond behind the home. Bryant did his call, and the animal immediately came "flying" out of the water and toward the group.
"I've never seen anything like that," Koetter said. "I didn't wait to see how close it was going to get. There were some bushes there about 25 yards away, and I didn't wait for it to get any closer. I got behind someone else so it would eat them before me."
One place you won't find Bryant performing the unique talent is in his saltwater aquarium. Keeping a 265-gallon tank has become his latest passion — and expense. Bryant figures he has spent 20 times the initial investment he made in the tank purchased from a friend who was getting rid of the equipment.
With the help of a friend, Byrant encased the 7-foot long tank in a basement wall of his home. He has stocked it with tangs, variums and coral. From the animated movie Finding Nemo, Dory (a blue tang) and, of course, Nemo (a clown fish) are included.
There is much more involved in stocking an aquarium full of clown fish. There are many varieties of the species, including the Black Ice Clown fish that Bryant can readily show in the many photos stored on his iPhone.
"I've always wanted (a saltwater tank)," Bryant said. "My favorite place to go is the Georgia Aquarium (in Atlanta). I just go there and sit all day. To me, it's very therapeutic.
"I always wanted one, and a guy down the road, he was going to sell his really cheap. You know what, for that price it's worth a try and see what happens. Since buying the thing, I've probably spent 10 or 20 times that on all the different things."
Fun until you spend $400 on a fish and it dies four days later. That's part of the perils of keeping a perfect environment for so many species. Fear not, the fish was replaced.
Bryant plans to purchase a 1,000-gallon tank, as the hobby has a full grasp on him, and his young children are fascinated by the aquatics.
"It's amazing how this thing has entrenched me," Bryant said.