Friday, August 14, 2009

How to Bring Back (and even improve) End Zone Celebrations in the NFL

Never did the NFL deserve the nickname "No Fun League" more than when in March of 2006, the league decided to "rein in" touchdown celebrations, effectively making doing anything more than spiking the ball punishable by 15 yards and probably a fine. They haven't been kidding around with this rule either, fining Wes Welker $10,000 for making a snow angel. While I'm sure all the NFL fans over 60 who tune in to the O'Reilly Factor after the games and Joe Buck are happy that the NFL banned celebrations, I think I speak for the majority of NFL fans in feeling that an entertaining part of the game has been missing for the past couple years.

As far as end zone celebrations go, I think most of us can agree that overall they are a little childish and immature, but then again you could say the same thing about getting emotionally involved in the outcome of a sports game you aren't playing in or paying $79 for a replica jersey (funny, I don't hear the NFL complaining there). The point is that as long as the celebration isn't making fun of someone in a malicious manner they are harmless and don't detract from the game or push fans away from the sport. If anything they give the sport and players a more human element that fans can identify with, considering most of us can't identify with being able to do 25 reps of 225lbs on the bench or run a 40 yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. We all get excited when we score a touchdown (whether in backyard, pee-wee, or high school football) and most of us know someone (or perhaps are someone) who will do some type of celebration after scoring a touchdown (and most adding a bit of unintentional comedy to the process).

Touchdown celebrations have a long history in the NFL (there has to be a video of the ickey shuffle on youtube). While most players chose to avoid celebrations even before the rule was enacted, a small set of players continually entertained (or at least attempted to entertain) us with endzone celebrations. From elaborate schemes involving hidden props to mocking other players, we have seen some very entertaining celebrations over the years. In 2005 Steve Smith and Chad Johnson even took it to an awesome new level when each tried to upstage the other after scoring a touchdown (Johnson's were overall the best, but I still love the Steve Smith Vikings Love Boat celebration, #9 on the countdown at the top of the page).

Two years later, the creativeness that was just starting to really blossom was thrown to a screeching halt by Goodell and co., and it hasn't really helped the players. Smith has still been successful, but perhaps a lack of lightheartedness has caused him to relapse to his anger management days, breaking Ken Lucas's nose in training camp last year. Chad Johnson seems less motivated to find the end zone these days and has resorted to changing his last name to a grammatically incorrect Spanish version of his uniform number. Finally, look what you have done to T.O! Despite his team destroying antics, T.O. was generally an entertaining player who most of us enjoyed before 2006. I really don't think its a coincidence that people finally started getting sick of him once end zone celebrations were banned. Owens is a player who needs attention one way or another, and end zone celebrations were much more acceptable forum for that attention than press conferences.

So now that we have established that endzone celebrations ultimately are innocent and fun, how can they be practically reinstated in order to still keep Goody-Goodydell happy? Well here is my proposal. Allow players a period of 30 seconds to celebrate however they wish (as long as it is not malicious or too defaming of others) immediately after the touchdown signal is given. At the end of this 30 seconds the official will blow the whistle and the player will have 5 seconds (trust me its enough) to get off the field and return the ball to an official (if necessary). I feel this plan is fairly foolproof. From the NFL's perspective, the celebration is still regulated to prevent it taking too much time or attention away from the game. From the players' perspective it still allows them to celebrate and get enough attention to possibly merit an appearance on sports center. From the fan's perspective, the time slot will force players like Owens, Ochocinco, and Smith to be creative with the time and possibly lead to more original and entertaining celebrations. As Michael Scott may say, win-win-win.

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