This past Saturday, I was taking a quick breather from my jog around the neighborhood when I saw four children, each about 10 years old, playing two-on-two football. As I began watching, the quarterback-sporting an oversized official Peyton Manning jersey-said hike, and then proceeded to loft the ball toward the end zone, where his teammate-donning an official Carolina Panthers sweatshirt-hauled in the pass.
After catching the touchdown, the little Panther sprang up and started doing the dance from Usher's "Yeah" video, and miniature Manning ran over to join in the fun. It was one of the funnier things I had witnessed in a while, and I was just happy that these kids were having so much fun playing a game I love.
If NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had been right beside me, I imagine he would not have let loose a single chuckle. Here is a play-by-play transcript of what I think Tagliabue would have done:
"Tagliabue is walking onto the field! It appears he is lecturing the kids about the pitfalls of end-zone celebrations. Wait a minute-. It looks like Tagliabue is demanding money from the children! I don't believe it! Peyton forks over 50 cents, and now he's crying! This guy has got to be kidding me!"
In case you missed it, the NFL (a.k.a. Paul Tagliabue) fined Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson $5,000 for his touchdown celebration Nov. 28. Upon scoring, the star receiver picked up the orange pylon and did his best Tiger Woods impression, using the pylon like a putter and tapping the ball. It wasn't quite as hilarious as Usher, but it was funny nonetheless.
Nevermind that the NFL is inconsistent in awarding end-zone celebration fines-the Packers' oft-practiced "Lambeau Leap" is okay, yet several festivities choreographed by Johnson, Terrell Owens and some others are deemed "prolonged, excessive and premeditated."
Nevermind-because fining players for celebrating a rare act that entertains the fans and makes the league money is utterly ridiculous. How rare is the touchdown? It's so rare it counts for six points. It's so rare that even good players usually go about two weeks between scoring them.
A good comparison lies in soccer, the other football. When a European footballer scores a goal, the fans do not hope the player breaks immediately into a frenzied celebration. They expect a frenzied celebration. Most of us remember Brandi Chastain's famous women's World Cup goal celebration, when she ripped off her red, white and blue, dropped to her knees, raised her arms and thrust out her sports-bra-clad chest. How many guys do you think complain about that celebration?
The fact is, more elaborate scoring celebrations are becoming an integral part of professional sports because they are funny, entertaining, and they increase the value of the product. Even in golf, where proper etiquette is the first rule, the popularity of the game soars with every Tiger Woods fist pump. In professional bowling, Pete Weber has not been fined for putting his hands around his private area after throwing a strike.
If Weber's immoral act is not fined, isn't it crazy to think that an act so benign, so entertaining and so good for the popularity of football earns Johnson a fine?
Well, maybe Tagliabue is just getting old. He became a senior citizen only several days before Johnson's fine, and I think the end-zone celebration is a concept lost in generational translation. Old guys like Tagliabue tend to think that the players should just flip the ball to the referees because that's what Hall-of-Famers Jim Brown, Lenny Moore and Lance Alworth did after scoring touchdowns.
Us younger folk think of a celebration like Johnson's not as disrespect but as innovation. The touchdown dance gained notoriety with the awkward "Ickey Shuffle" by Ickey Woods in the 1980s, and advanced with "The Shake" by Ernest Givens in the early '90s. Today's guys have taken it to a whole new level with their preparation and variety, and it should be recognized for what it is: progress.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Today's younger fans see it as such, and Tagliabue should be most in touch with this fan base because they are the future of his game. In order to get in touch with football's youth, maybe Tagliabue should go watch some kids play a pickup game.