After watching The Buffalo Bills’ Stevie Johnson pantomime Plexico Burress’ shooting himself in the leg as part of a TD celebration last week, followed by Seattle’s Golden Tate scoring a TD against the Redskins then falling to the ground in celebratory stupidity, I was annoyed. Not just because Johnson’s penalty was followed by him dropping a couple of passes which would in the end play a huge part in the Bills losing to the Jets, or because Golden Tate gave the Redskins a short field (that was appreciated fully) but because in both cases it was an example of a player costing his team yards.
If football is in fact a game of inches, these two gave up a great deal during their celebrations. But it goes deeper than Tate and Johnson. We witness excessive celebrations multiple times a game and while I am quite sure that the feeling associated with making a huge play in an NFL football game comes with a fair amount of adreneline fueled post-play excitement, players today would do well to remember a few things.
First of all, is it just me or does it seem at times like some players today celebrate every play they are involved in? I remember when former Seahawks LB Aaron Curry would make a decent NFL tackle only to get up and expend furious amounts of energy celebrating with a war cry. In the end, Curry was traded to Oakland in part because he’ll be remembered more for his war cry then for his play. But Curry is far from the only one. Sack a QB in the NFL today and you’re likely to see the defensive player involved shoot up, sprint ten yards downfield and chest bump/high five everyone but the trainer. And I get it; sacks matter. Sometimes, they determine the outcome of a game. And when they do I don’t begrudge a guy his moment. In fact, I hope it feels great. But what I find amazing is how many of those types celebrations happen when the celebrating player’s team is losing; and sometimes badly. Look, if you are down by 21 with 4:13 left in the 4th quarter and you do make a huge play, great! But to engage in an obscene demonstration of ego as a result is far from inspiring and likely won’t change a fans perspective that celebrating on the verge of a loss is a tough thing for a fan to watch. Individual play works well during contract years and there is nothing wrong with personal accomplishment. But if you accomplish it, you won’t have to “show us” you made a great play; it will simply stand out. Trust us, we won’t miss it.
And then there are the touchdown celebrations. I have never scored an NFL touchdown. Like many of you, I’ll never gain a single yard in the NFL. So to some extent the joy and elation of scoring a touchdown at the highest level of professional football is something that will forever elude me, even if every Sunday I do a little vicarious living through those who get it. But that does not mean that scoring has to rob a player of a certain sense of respect; if not for himself, then for his team. When a player scores a touchdown it is almost never the result of just one player. Even the tremendous efforts that look like one-man-shows are far more complicated than that. Blocking at the point of the offensive attack springs a running back. Great blocking up front allows the quarterback the opportunity to throw a deep pass. Eleven guys all going after the same goal. Every play can be blown up by just one guy missing his gap, his assignment, his guy going across the middle. We see it all the time. So when one guy scores a touchdown I think not only of him but of the other ten guys who made it happen. When that same guy starts engaging in a ridiculous post touchdown dance or, as is many times the case, something that looks like a seizure, I want to call NFL Films and have Steve Sabol send me a bunch of film on a wide receiver named Steve Largent. Steve was as competitive as anyone on the field, but he also understood that he was one guy on a team of fifty-three. How many times did Steve score and just hand the ball to the referee? How many times did Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders do the same thing? Hall of Fame players each of them but they always carried themselves with something that felt like a deep respect for the other ten guys on the field after they scored.
Thanks to the antics of players who turn the joy of scoring a touchdown into something we could all do without, the NFL has enacted rules to limit celebrations. That is sad, but not for the obvious reasons. It is sad because it had to be done in the first place. Rules like that were imposed due to players turning in self-aggrandizing performances that had little to do with football and even less to do with their respective teams. In looking up the rules for this article, rules that forbid a player from going to the ground during a celebration or engaging in a celebration that lasts too long I found myself missing the spike. Even the most enthusiastic of spikes seemed appropriate. It’s the exclamation on a great play. It does not go too far. It does not create a spectacle, and it does not make me roll my eyes, wondering if some of the guys engaged in the more elaborate celebrations spend as much time studying game film as they do rehearsing their next touchdown celebration.
I should make it clear that I love the fun and emotion of the game. I love to see my team score touchdowns; often and in a variety of ways. I love that players (especially young ones) are thrilled when they score. They are living a dream made possible by the NFL and their dedication and sacrafice to the sport they love so much. But the sport I love does not have to become watered down in order to be relevant. NFL players don’t need to act like they are trying to make it to the big show. They are in the show. The NFL is not the Arena League, or the WWE. The NFL does not have to be tamed to the point of fan boredom. But it does not have to be a free-for-all either. A player can celebrate a play without begging the cameras to follow him and costing his team yards. Those who play in the NFL should always remember that, and in so doing, respect those who started it all and with grace, class, and dignity, delivered for us a game worth celebrating and loving.