A touchdown in pro football is a big deal since it can be a potential game winner. Seven points ( including the PAT) is a big swing . A TD is the result of supreme effort and players who score a TD never know when they will score another . For some , it may be their only score that season or even in their careers. No wonder that they celebrate each TD so joyfully , so whole heartedly.
Most TD celebrations today involve group hugs , backpatting and airborne chest bumps but there are some that are very distinctive . My favorite is the “Lambeau Leap”. When a Green Bay Packer scores a TD , he runs to the stands behind the end zone and propels himself into the arms of waiting fans who grab him and enthusiastically pat him on the back. To me , the Lambeau Leap is special because it shares a moment of exhilaration with the fans . It also shows the trust players have in their fans because a player is very vulnerable at such times.
Another celebration that was special but has now become old hat is the Gatorade Shower , which occurs on the sidelines after victory has been sealed. Players douse their unsuspecting head coach with the icy contents of a tub of Gatorade . I think the first time it happened was when the Giants won the Super Bowl back in 1986 and Bill Parcells , the Giants head coach , was the victim . The first time it was spontaneous and fun ; now , it has become a tired joke . I also wonder whether the players are sub -consciously getting their own back on the guy who has been screaming and yelling at them throughout the season . Parcells , in particular , was known as a tough , no-nonsense coach who rode his players hard; perhaps the players were only getting their revenge .
An unusual celebration occurred when the US women’s soccer team won the 1999 World Cup defeating a tough Chinese team . Brandi Chastain , who scored the decider , ran to the middle of the field , sank to her knees in joy and pulled off her shirt and waved it overhead . That picture of Chastain in her sports bra made the sports pages ll over the world . Almost a decade later , the only names I remember from that team are Mia Hamm , a genuine superstar,…. and Brandi Chastain . I sometimes wonder : Was Chastain’s celebration spontaneous or was it carefully planned for maximum publicity ? Regardless , it was certainly memorable !!
Speaking of victory celebrations , I am reminded of the time seven or eight years ago , when the Pakistan team used to kneel down on the field and give thanks to God for their victory. At post match interviews, their then- captain , Inzamam -ul-Huq , an ultra-religious type , used to begin every other sentence with “ By the grace of Allah… “. I think I was not the only one who found this behavior a little jarring ; it smacked of ” We won because my god is better than your god.” In time , Inzamam lost form and was dropped from the side , the team stopped winning and the kneeldowns became a thing of the past.
It’s one thing for a player to point to the heavens after scoring a TD but quite another when the entire team makes a big deal of their religiosity. Some years ago , when Randall Cunningham was the Minnesota Viking QB , he and some of the Viking players used to kneel down after every game and have a prayer session . They had a perfect right to do so but I didn’t care for that either. Religion should be private thing between a person and his god and there is no place for it on the sports field.
Sometimes celebrations can be premature . Some years ago, a defensive line man for the Dallas Cowboys ( I think it was Leon Lett) intercepted a pass and lumbered to the end zone for a certain TD. Only thing was he decided to be a hotdog and extended his arm with the ball held loosely as he approached the goal line . The unthinkable happened as an opposing player caught up with Lett , knocked the ball out of his hand and recovered it at the one yard line . No seven points for the Cowboys ; no glory for Lett. In fact , it was a long time before he lived down his moment of light-headedness. Something similar nearly happened in the NFC championship game when B. J. Raji of the Packers intercepted a Chicago Bear pass and took off for the goal-line.Like Lett, he held the ball out in one hand and had it knocked out but , luckily for him , it happened just after the ball had broken the plane of the goal-line . If it had happened a split second earlier , there would have been no TD and it might have been the difference in the game.
Not infrequently , ill-timed celebrations backfire. In the NFC Divisional playoff, Atlanta DE John Abraham sacked Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers and made as if he was adjusted a championship belt around his waist . I wasn’t aware of it at the time but Rodgers is apparently in the habit of making that gesture when he scores a TD . I don’t know if Abraham’s mocking gesture fired up Rodgers but the Packers and Rodgers simply demolished the Falcons in the second half.
The NFL frowns upon taunting and has instituted a penalty for that and for ” excessive celebrations ‘. It’s something that is certainly called for since taunting can escalate into a fight which might result in players being injured . Excessive celebrations too can cause tempers to flare. Bizarre celebrations like Terrell Owens pulling a Sharpie out of his socks and signing autographs for fans behind the end zone or the Jet player who scored a TD and then lay down with his head on the ball and pretended to take a nap, deserve punishment.
I was mystified though at the fine handed to soccer superstar Lionel Messi a couple of weeks ago. Messi’s team, Barcelona ,played Racing Santander in a Spanish Soccer League match and Barcelona won the match 3-0. When Messi scored on a penalty shot , he dedicated the goal to his mother . With the TV camera focussed on him , Messi lifted his jersey to reveal his undershirt with the words ” Happy Birthday , Mami” inked on it . The recent “Ballon d’Or” winner was not booked by the referee during the game, but the action was included in his match report.Messi was punished under the Spanish federation’s disciplinary committee article 91.1 for goal celebrations. Messi can expect a fine between 2,000 euros($2,736) and 3,000 euros($4,105) and will also receive a yellow card.
I don’t understand the logic of the penalty. His action did not disrespect anybody and was a loving birthday wish to his mother . Did the Spanish authorities feel that they had to draw the line now so that other players might not be emboldened to push the envelope. Your guess is as good as mine .