Posted on February 7, 2005

Scoring a Chance to Dance

Mike Penner and David Wharton, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 5

Four years later, people still thank George Teague for what he did on that September afternoon at Texas Stadium.

Teague was playing safety for the Dallas Cowboys on a day when Terrell Owens, then of the San Francisco 49ers, caught two touchdown passes. After the first score, Owens ran to midfield and struck a pose — arms spread, head back — while standing on the Cowboy logo, a giant blue star. After the second, he started to do it again.

“It would be like someone coming into your house and standing up on your coffee table,” Teague said, “dancing in front of your kids.”

So Teague ran over and leveled him.

Touchdown celebrations can arouse those sorts of passions.

What began in the 1960s as a minimalist act, a matter of spiking the ball and walking away, has become an elaborate and often choreographed ritual that combines elements of vaudeville, MTV, hip-hop and performance art.

Players gyrate their hips, wag their fingers and waggle their knees. They dive into the stands. They even use props.

Owens once pulled a felt-tipped pen from his sock, autographed the football and handed it to his financial advisor in the stands. New Orleans Saint receiver Joe Horn stashed a cellphone under the goalpost padding before a game, then celebrated a score by calling home.

The quest for newer, more outrageous ways to mark the occasion led Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings to pantomime dropping his pants and mooning the crowd in Green Bay last month. A week later, in a game against Moss and the Vikings, receiver Freddie Mitchell of the Philadelphia Eagles pretended to pull a pair of trousers back on.

Some fans can’t wait to see what players will think of next, and the highlight shows cannot get enough. But National Football League officials and the game’s elder statesmen worry that the antics have gotten out of hand. Former Rams defensive lineman Deacon Jones speaks for traditionalists when he grumbles: “I want to watch football, not dance.”

All of this has the image-conscious NFL in a bind, eager to entertain yet mindful of stirring controversy, especially after the trouble last February, when singer Janet Jackson’s breast was bared during the Super Bowl halftime show.

The league monitors touchdown celebrations and has fined players as much as $30,000 for gestures deemed unsporting, such as pointing at an opponent or dancing over a sacked quarterback.

However, fines are not a powerful deterrent in a league whose players earn more than $1 million a year on average, with stars such as Moss and Owens commanding many times that amount.