By Chris Wimmer, Mostly Sports contributor — Twitter: @cdwimmer13
At the risk of sounding like Reverend Moore from Footloose, the dancing in the NFL needs to stop.
The ridiculous, absurd, self-serving, arrogant end zone “celebrations” are out of control. This past weekend, the most glaring example was on full display in the form of Pittsburg Steelers’ cornerback William Gay.
In the third quarter of the Steelers’ route of the Bengals, Gay intercepted a pass and returned it to the end zone for a touchdown. That is a relatively rare accomplishment. It deserves to be celebrated.
But Gay’s “celebration” was so over-the-top, even by NFL standards, that he was penalized for it. AND, after he was penalized, he continued his shenanigans. Watching the video, it’s not even clear if he understood that he was penalized. And even if he did, it’s quite clear that he would not have cared.
Here’s the reason: arrogance. He cared more about himself than his team. He cared more about being the center of attention than celebrating an achievement that helped to further his team’s goals.
If you would like to view his absurdity, it is available here via the NFL Network (which, of course, prohibits embedding its videos in pages like these):
This is the reality of today’s NFL. Players have choreographed routines that must have been perfected only after long hours of practice at home in front of a mirror. There is absolutely no spontaneity or joy in them. They are designed for one reason and one reason only: to honor “ME.”
And the most painful part of these antics is that the teammates of the player who is “celebrating” are forced to stand around him and watch. They don’t know what the hell he is doing. They don’t know how long his foolishness is going to last.
All they want to do is hug him and honor the play he made — for the TEAM. But they can’t. They have to suffer awkwardly until he is finished, which, in the case of Sir William Gay, can be a hell of a long time.
And while we’re briefly back on the subject of William Gay, let’s quickly dissect the play in which he scored. He wasn’t sprinting the length of the field and leaping over the taller A.J. Green to make a spectacular interception that then required him to race 100 yards in the other direction while weaving his way through the entire Bengals offense to score.
He intercepted a tunnel screen. From backup QB A.J. McCarron. And walked into the end zone from 25 yards away without getting touched. In the third quarter of a game that they were easily winning.
THAT is the context of the play that he felt he needed to “celebrate” not once, not twice, but THREE different times before he finally planted his ass on the bench.
But, of course, these kinds of laughable actions are not unfamiliar to readers of a certain age. NFL fans will remember the infamous Terrell Owens and his Sharpie Incident. And his Popcorn Incident.
And his Dallas Star incident in 2000, when, as a member of the 49ers, he scored in Dallas and then ran 50 yards back up field to stand in the center of the Dallas Cowboys logo at midfield and spread his arms open wide so all could revel in his glory.
The full sequence of events is captured in this handy video:
The point is: Owens was the ultimate “me” guy. But he certainly didn’t start the post-touchdown celebration craze. He just made it worse — much, much worse.
In the 1970s, Houston Oilers’ wide receiver Billie “White Shoes” Johnson did the Funky Chicken after he scored. It was goofy and a little self-serving, but mostly harmless.
In the 80s, Bengals’ running back Ickey Woods took the NFL by storm with his famous Ickey Shuffle. It was technically a “celebration” like the ones that are so annoying today, but like that of ole White Shoes, it was fairly harmless.
In the 90s, Falcons’ running back Jamal Anderson did the Dirty Bird. He did it and did it and did it all the way to the Super Bowl in 1998, where he was kept out of the end zone, thankfully, by the Denver Broncos.
Terrell Owens dominated the “celebrations” of the early 2000s and now we have a whole new crop of players with new levels of stupidity.
Last year, the popular trend was simple and yet arguably the most insulting of all: players would “celebrate” by running into the end zone, turning their backs to the crowd, and then pointing over their shoulders to the names on the backs of their jerseys.
Two weeks ago, William Gay’s teammate, Antonio Brown, jumped — spread-eagle — into the padding that surrounds the goal post. Prior to that, Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton delighted fans with a wondrous 3-part performance after a TD in Tennessee.
For the record, this is not a rant against celebrations. Players SHOULD be allowed to show some emotion after they score. But these moments should be spontaneous and genuine displays of celebration of achievement.
Scream. Yell. Cheer. Hugs your teammates. Jump into the crowd. Spike the ball. Throw the ball into the crowd.
Or, better yet, hand the ball to a teammate and let HIM throw it into the crowd.
Do you know who used to do that? Walter Payton.
Do you know who didn’t celebrate a TD with choreographed routines? Walter Payton. And Jim Brown. And Franco Harris and Jerry Rice and Tim Brown and Lynn Swann and Marshall Faulk and Steve Largent (you’re welcome, Morgan). And most of the greatest players of all time.
NFL players, have fun. Celebrate — without quotation marks. But be better.