Vernon Davis had just scored the second-biggest touchdown of his career. Sure, it was only the second quarter, but the San Francisco 49er tight end had just caught a 73-yard touchdown pass to put his team ahead with a spot in the Super Bowl going to the victor. After his dash down the sideline to the endzone, he leaped over a row of photographers and ran over to the television camera stand and jumped on it. He stayed there for four or five seconds at most before jumping down to celebrate with his teammates. For that, his team was penalized 15 yards on the ensuing* kickoff because the NFL officials find such actions to be excessively celebratory.
*The only time you ever hear the word “ensuing” is in conjunction with kickoff. I’m hoping my pastor concludes his sermon this week by saying “in our ensuing sermon next Sunday, we’ll be discussing” Jesus or peace or what New England has to do to contain the Giants front four during the Super Bowl.
Look, I get that the league doesn’t want a Peter Griffin inspired song and dance after every touchdown, but penalties for excessive celebration serves only one real purpose that I can find. It’s to reinforce to the fans and spectators that this contest is serious business and needs to be shown the utmost respect and dignity.
LEAGUE OFFICIALS: What? The players are having fun and showing emotion on the field? This can not be. We must stop this.
And, thus, the dumbest rule in sports: the excessive celebration rule.
On some level, I can understand league officials and even team owners wanting to portray the games as a serious battle between groups of gladiators meeting on the battlefield prepared to wage war (you didn’t blink twice at the war metaphor, did you?). By presenting the game as some larger than life event with ruins of biblical proportions to visit the vanquished while the victor will feast on the finest meats and cheeses in all the land, all brought to them by maidens is togas who will then fan the players with giant tree leaves, it gives the impression the game matters.
Even broadcasters, who work for media companies who have paid princely sums of money to the league for the right to broadcast the games, have a vested interest in portraying the games as life-or-death struggles. Ideally, they’d be able to show a little self-awareness and realize they’re talking about a game.
But the fans. Oh, the fans. I, too, was like many of you once. I wanted players to “act like they’ve been there before” and to “go about their business like professionals.” I hated the endless celebrating after every catch. I cringed at the touchdown dances. All if it was too much. I couldn’t take it.
Then, like Elwood Blues, I saw the light. It’s a game. And that’s it. It’s ONLY a game. The same game you play with your friends on Thanksgiving when you’re a little kid only without the television cameras, crowd, lights, announcers, huge contracts and your game gets cut short because you have to wash your hands before dinner. It’s supposed to be entertainment. So what if the guy gets a first down and then wants to spend the next 45 seconds dancing a jig reminiscent of Riverdance. Other than the five-yard penalty his team will get for delay of game, there’s no harm. I don’t get mad when a guitarist goes on an extended solo at a rock concert. I’m there to be entertained. Same when I’m watching a football game. I want to be entertained, and amusing celebrations are fun.
It may not be exactly what country singer Lee Ann Womack meant when she said “I hope you dance,” but NFL players, I hope you dance. Dance like millions of people are watching, because we are. I hope next season when Vernon Davis scores a touchdown, he runs to a camera, strikes a pose from the movie “Gladiator” and screams “Are you not entertained?”