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Online shopping is up 45 percent from last year, and say what you will about convenience, quicker access and no lines but a major factor in the holiday gift e-surge seems to be -- talking ducks.
There is no shortage of novelty golf items this time of year, but few go further from the flock than what you'll find at whackduck.com, touted as an "on-course stress relief device designed for the frustrations of golf." The duck can be strapped to a golf bag, and when struck by a hand or, say, golf club, it offers one of 18 comments ("You're not good enough to get angry") in a thick Scottish accent somewhere between Scrooge McDuck and Mike Myers.
"The duck debuted in the spring and had a good run at Father's Day, but Christmas is making Father's Day look like an insignificant event," said Ian Plumley, who identified himself as the Michigan company's director of wildlife.
Two duck caveats: The site touts its bird as being "voted America's Most Wanted by Sports Illustrated" at the 2001 PGA Merchandise Show when in fact it merely was one of several items mentioned in a one-page article headlined "America's Most Wanted." Despite that mallard-propism, if you're going to buy one, do so at whackduck.com for $30 plus shipping rather than the $40-50 other duck-gouging sites are charging.
The connection between golf and ducks continues at thegolfduck.com, where a North Carolina man sells "skillfully carved and beautifully hand-painted" ducks made from vintage clubheads. The site offers 14 varieties (any more would bring a one-stroke penalty) for $40 each. For greatest distance, reach for a red-breasted merganser, or for $55 select any duck as a driver-turned-desk clock.
Even more frightening is the wide range of Duck Gear available at aflac.com, home to the insurance company whose commercials star an oft-imitated duck. Anyone who has watched college football this fall has seen truly fowl product placement, with a tiny plush duck sighted in CBS' broadcast booth and even from a blimp above Gainesville for last week's Florida-Tennessee game. That very duck, complete with a sound chip, can be yours for $10, a portion of which goes to AFLAC's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
If the duck isn't obscure enough for the sports fan in your life, how about a braided ficus tree with a golf ball painstakingly woven into the trunk? Bonsaiboy.com offers that ultimate in unplayable lies for $55 plus shipping.
Want something expensive that combines tackiness with the one-month-a-year shelf life of a holiday keepsake? Danburymintsports.com has a 7-inch figurine of Santa himself decked in Buccaneers gear, jolly indeed in sweatshirt, team jacket and pewter foam finger for $75.
And if you want to shop online and still know you're supporting a local business, the first site most search engines offer for "sports gifts" is bestsportgifts.com, based in Indian Rocks Beach. The site has a veritable menagerie of more than 50 different animal-head golf club covers, including blue whale, baby harp seal and marmot.
Finally, for the ultimate football gift, something that will get that lazy NFL fan out of the house on a Sunday, the answer can be found at espnauctions.com. ESPN is offering a trip for two to its Bristol, Conn., headquarters to hang out with Chris Berman and the rest of the network's NFL crew on the final Sunday of the regular season, watching the morning NFL Countdown show, a full slate of afternoon games and NFL Primetime. Proceeds go to the September 11 Children's Fund, with bidding at $2,125 and continuing through Thursday.
TID-BYTES: Buccaneers.com has online registration for the Draft Day Dash, a 5K run April 20 that will finish with runners going through the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium and onto the field. A more fitting challenge might be a Red Zone Run, in which everyone would continue down the field only to stop just inside the 20. ... Nebraska's Eric Crouch received one official first-place vote for the Heisman Trophy after finishing first in online balloting at voteheisman.com. Crouch was the popular choice in a CNNSI.com poll, getting 38 percent of 13,000-plus votes Thursday.
-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at email@example.com.