Dancing Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, shuffling Ickey Woods and the high-fiving Fun Bunch? Their entertaining touchdown celebrations would be illegal in today’s NFL.
Though the league rulebook has some very specific examples of what constitutes a penalty, the grey area is as wide as ever.
Take, for example, Husain Abdullah’s drop to his knees after returning an interception for a touchdown on Monday. It confused the referees — and caused them to throw a penalty flag. In their eyes, the Kansas City Chiefs defensive back violated the language in Rule 12, Section 3(d) that states “Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground.”
But Abdullah is a devout Muslim, who had always vowed he’d fall to his knees if he ever reached the end zone. Critics pointed out that many players have knelt in Christian player and weren’t penalized, most notably Tim Tebow, who’s one-knee genuflection became a meme. After further review, the NFL said since it was part of a religious expression, Abdullah should not have been flagged.
Highlights from the NFL’s forbidden list, who may have caused it, and who might get nailed today.
—PROLONGED, CHOREOGRAPHED, EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION: It could be said that the “Fun Bunch” — aka Art Monk, Alvin Garrett and the rest of the Washington Redskins receivers in the early 1980s — took the fun out of the NFL. After touchdowns, they would form a circle and time a group high-five.
In a 1983 game at Texas Stadium, Cowboys defenders tried to break up a Fun Bunch celebration by standing in the middle of it. A year later, the league passed a rule banning “excessive celebration.”
Just last week, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers broke this rule, and about three others, when he spun the ball on the ground, pretended he was spinning like the ball, then fell to the ground. He was penalized 15 yards and a scolding from coach Mike Tomlin. Victor Cruz of the New York Giants says he’s planning a new Salsa dance to celebrate touchdowns.
—USE OF FOREIGN OBJECTS THAT ARE NOT PART OF THE UNIFORM: Would the white shoes Johnson wore when he was returning kicks for the Houston Oilers back in the day have qualified as “foreign objects?” Who knows?
But give these guys an A for creativity and advance planning: Terrell Owens pulling a Sharpie pen out of his sock and signing a ball after scoring. And New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn reaching the end zone, then pulling a cellphone out of the padding on the goalpost and pretending to make a call.
—SACK DANCES, HOME-RUN SWING, INCREDIBLE HULK: All are verboten if “committed directly at an opponent.” Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets had one of the first (and possibly the worst) sack dance.
It sparked a bench-clearing brawl in 1983 with the Los Angeles Rams and their Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, who said: “One lousy tackle and he puts on a big act. Why don’t I dance every time I block him out?”
Also forbidden under this category are home-run swings (Neil Smith), Incredible Hulk gestures (Clay Matthews used to do it. More recently, Packers running back Eddie Lacy cleverly bypassed this by wearing an Incredible Hulk shirt under his jersey) and military salutes (could’ve potentially put Terrell Davis and the Denver Broncos famous Mile High Salute of the late 1990s in jeopardy).
—THROAT SLASH, STOMPING ON TEAM LOGOS: Fred Taylor of the Jacksonville Jaguars was tagged a few times for a throat-slash gesture that was popular, especially in college football, about 10 years ago.
Owens put team logos in the rulebook when, while playing for the 49ers, he ran to the star at the 50-yard line at Texas Stadium after a touchdown. Emmitt Smith responded by doing that himself a bit later. Then, Owens caught another touchdown and did it again, and Cowboys defensive back George Teague met him at the star and laid him out.
—SPIKING THE BALL OVER THE GOALPOST: It had been one of the last bastions of good, clean celebration — that is, until Saints tight end Jimmy Graham knocked the post off-kilter on a slam last season in Atlanta, causing a lengthy delay.
This preseason, Graham was penalized twice and fined $30,000 for breaking the new rule. His reaction: “You can’t really have fun anymore.” Well, Woods still can. The former Cincinnati Bengals runner is featured doing his once-famous Ickey Shuffle in a GEICO commercial that airs during NFL games.
(EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer)