November 15, 2005

End Zone Antics Have Their Place

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Nine weeks deep, and life is good. Or terrible. Whatever, you’re ugly. Amidst the Colts pushing for perfection, T.O. auditioning to secure a spot on the next season of The Surreal Life, and the Vikings doing their best imitation of Pamela and Tommy Lee, plenty has happened during the first half of the season. However, my blissful disposition stems from something far less sensational than those headline grabbers. I speak of the touchdown celebration, an act once considered so distasteful as to be deemed sacrilegious. The initial outcry has finally died down, and now – finally – the strutting and preening has become an established part of our Sunday afternoons, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.

A brief history of the touchdown celebration – the conventional triumphant spike evolved into the Lambeau Leap, which then morphed into the Dirty Bird which finally gave birth to T.O.’s Sharpie incident (pom-pom incident, Dallas 50-yard-line incident, take your pick). Another way of interpreting this evolution: in under a decade the celebrations progressed from what were considered harmless antics to offensive demonstrations of unsportsmanlike conduct.

As with many things in our society, as soon as the media fixated on these celebrations there were ready hordes poised to jump on the bandwagon. Mothers and Republicans across the nation labeled them as crude, insulting and disruptive. The celebrations were seen as unnecessary and obnoxious rather than creative and entertaining. They just “weren’t part of the game.” But let’s examine that for a moment. It seems to me that a touchdown is something worthy of celebrating. They add an extra dimension to the entertainment value of the sport. They are clever and imaginative. Some players go so far as to take time and energy to plan, prepare and practice a routine during the week prior to the upcoming game so they are ready for the spotlight when it hits come Sunday. In a game so often criticized as being overly violent and aggressive, touchdown celebrations offer fans an opportunity to see a lighter, more playful side of their athletic heroes.

Of course, the NFL has complete jurisdiction over what constitutes “playfulness.” Last April, during an owners’ meeting, owners voted to allow officials to flag a team with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for any choreographed celebration involving more than a single player. The terms “prolonged,” “excessive,” and “premeditated” were used as a measure of what was and was not okay. I agree with the league’s decision to reprimand players for acting unprofessionally after scoring touchdowns, and I submit it is up to the commissioner and his henchman to make the ultimate decisions on what is and what is not acceptable. But part of me is lost as to why spiking a ball or taking a knee and crossing oneself is considered appropriate while doing a well-rehearsed and clever jig in the back of the end zone is criticized as tasteless.

As “can he do that?” slowly transitions into “what’d he do this time?” it becomes clear that the touchdown celebration has effectively rooted itself in the sport. Nowadays, you can’t go three scores without watching Tony Gonzalez dunk a ball through the goalpost or Steve Smith show off his fencing skills, doing his best imitation of a pirate in Tampa Bay (pirate – buccaneer – witty). It may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Almost a month ago, after Donovan McNabb hooked-up with T.O. for the first score of a game against the Chargers, Dan Dierdorf – one of CBS’ oldest and most veteran commentators – gave a more detailed and complete play-by-play recap of what Owens did after the catch than what he did to get open in order to make the catch. Dierdorf even went so far as to say “I’ve seen better” in reference to Terrell’s showboating. “Me too. I’ll give it a C-,” added his sidekick Dick Ensburg. A year ago this same duo would have chastised Owens for a similar action, and cited his behavior as an unwarranted distraction. What a difference an off-season makes.

Chad Johnson was on Inside the NFL a few weeks ago. During the span of his interview with Chris Carter, he was – not surprisingly – asked about his habit to “overly” celebrate his touchdowns. Johnson answered candidly, “It’s hard to catch touchdowns. I work hard all week to get into the end zone, so when I do, I like to have fun.”

Is this so wrong? When you think about it, there are few things better than dancing as a means of expressing joy. (I try to make it a habit to dance every time anything good happens to me. “A” on a test? I’m dancing. A free lunch at Trillium? I’m dancing. “2 Legit 2 Quit” comes on my iPod? You better believe I’m dancing.) The adage “we work hard, we play hard” is ringing in my ears. If Johnson can get into the end zone, I say let him do whatever the hell he wants. Same goes for Steve Smith, Joe Horn, and anybody else who feels the need to express himself. In the scandalous age of steroids, the whizzinator, and Ricky Williams, I think we should be free to get jiggy over something as pure as a touchdown. Heaven knows, if my fantasy life ever replaces my reality, and I catch a touchdown pass in an NFL game, be ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Ben Kopelman is a Sun Staff Writer. 2 Legit 2 Quit will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Ben Kopelman