Football Celebrations Should Draw Penalty
In Alabama's Independence Bowl victory over Colorado, one Alabama touchdown was a pass from John Parker Wilson to Nikita Stover. Stover ran the ball towards the goalline, then made a summersault into the end zone. It was a classic illustration of the prohibited act, yet was not flagged for a violation by the WAC officiating crew.
Individual player celebrations remain a source of consternation for old school followers of football as they yearn for the days when the favorite play of a certain hound's tooth hat wearing legend was the common protocol for touchdown makers. Handing the football to the official after scoring a touchdown rarely occurs in the age of self-congratulatory choreographed theatrics.
It was obvious during the Independence Bowl game that Alabama Coach Nick Saban recognized Stover's act as a violation. Even though Stover, who will be a senior wide receiver for the Crimson Tide in 2008, was not penalized by the officials, he got an earful from his head coach when he got to the sidelines.
There were several other such demonstrations in bowl games this year, and most (if not all) of the others were caught by officials.
At this year's Walter Camp Foundation annual banquet in New Haven, Conn., the subject of such celebrations was addressed by some of the All-America players being honored.
Although most players when asked consider themselves team oriented, the celebration antics continue to be committed even at crucial moments in a game negatively altering the field position and jeopardizing the chance of winning. Upon scoring a touchdown they realize their celebration actions are being judged by the officials yet they still commit the violation which is an intentional penalty against their team. What do the players and the 2007 Walter Camp Coach of the Year think about the rule and individuals who commit such violations? What might be said to a teammate as they return to the sideline after being assessed with the penalty?
Arkansas running back Darren McFadden spoke directly to the subject as he was a perpetrator of the act. "Sometimes you just get caught up in the moment because I've done that before. I've got caught up in the moment and have gotten a penalty after I've scored. You have to come to the sideline and just apologize to your team and coaches. They know you don't mean any harm by it."
Should you approach your teammate and chastise them? Arkansas teammate and fellow All-America, running back/kick returner Felix Jones felt otherwise as he empathized with their plight but did strongly recommend redemption for the offense. "No, because I know how it feels to score a touchdown and the emotions get ahead of you. If you got a penalty from celebrating just make sure you make up for it next time. Make sure you don't cost us a game. There are times to celebrate and times not to celebrate."
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel emphasized the responsibility of the player for self restraint as he said, "Everyone is a team player but when you score, it's special for yourself. Celebrate by yourself but also celebrate with the team as well." He tells the other player to keep it to yourself."
Missouri tight end Martin Rucker concurred with his signal caller about the excitement factor. "They know they're not supposed to do that. This is a team game. We know you're excited that you scored but act like you've been there before."
Players know when their behavior is unacceptable as West Virginia offensive tackle Ryan Stancheck replied, "You know when you go over the line." Approaching the offending teammates is unnecessary as he explained, "I don't really yell at my teammates because they're going to run in practice for it and that's penalty enough. A couple calls are made too often with guys celebrating with their teammates."
Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber echoed the sentiments of Rucker about being familiar with the end zone. "You tell them to act like they've been there before but at the same time scoring a touchdown is hard to do. You're going to celebrate. You're excited and in the moment. Sometimes the adrenal is pumping and you're going to celebrate and not think. Afterward you realize what you did. Sometimes they (official) get a little bit too ticky tack with the calls they make. Just move onto the next play. I know our coach gets after them a little bit when they celebrate some but they learn after the first time."
USC defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis questions the severity of the punishment and the confining atmosphere of the rules. "I think sometimes the referees and the conferences and the NCAA take it too far. They should allow the players to be themselves and have fun with the game. They kind of stifle college players. At the same time, you have to know how far to go. I think they should definitely let the guys have fun and do their little celebration. It's a part of having fun. As long as you are not taunting anybody, I really don't see the problem in having a little bit of fun out there." Coaches bare the responsibility of administering the punishment according to Ellis. "I think it's the coach's job to penalize them for things like that. Each coach has his own feeling about how that should go."
Virginia defensive end Chris Long was bull's eye blunt about such indiscretions but realizes you still require your teammate's effort to continue competing during the game. "It's dumb. It's selfish to do. We're all excited when we make plays but you have to keep it within reason, your celebration. When you make a penalty like that, it really hurts you on the kick-off. We just encourage each other no matter what happens. We might probably say hey man that's not real smart."
Boston College defensive back Jamie Silva's attitude was laissez-faire in nature as he summed up his stance on the issue, "You should be allowed to celebrate because it's the excitement of the game. I wouldn't say that it's so much selfish as it is just spur of the moment celebrating. Usually they just made a big play so if we get 15 yards for it, so be it."
Kansas State wide receiver Jordy Nelson defines the essence of the game as he replied, "Football is a team oriented sport. There are a lot of people who did something well on that play to enable you to score so you should just celebrate with your team." He also acknowledges the emotional impulse natural to athletics and defers to the caretakers of discipline to confront the individual. "Celebrating is fine as long as it's not all for your attention. Usually the players don't have to. The coaches take care of that and get their point across right away. So I think the coaches handle that for the most part and deal with the problem."
Asked about reconciling the perceived team attitude with the inconsistent field behavior warranting a penalty, University of Florida's 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow stated, "That's a really hard question for me to answer. I can't remember being penalized for that and so it isn't something I have an experience to share thoughts about." As to applying peer pressure to curb further incidents he said, "In the course of the game itself I'm normally focusing on the next drive and what the offense needs to do. It has not happened frequently with our team and we are taught to give our teammates credit when we do get into the end zone."
Kansas's Mark Mangino, Walter Camp Coach of the Year, made a request to officials and summed up his philosophy about the penalty by saying, "I would like to see some consistency in those calls. I've seen in other games where guys have dove in the end zone and didn't get called. Our players have great discipline. Every once in a while they make a mistake. As soon as it happens the player knows they've made a mistake. He's embarrassed. Our guy (cornerback, Aqib Talib) came to the bench (Orange Bowl game) and apologized to all the coaches and his teammates. Lessons learned in life."
It's just unfortunate the lesson comes at the expense of the team. Celebrating on the gridiron reminds one of toothpaste already out of the dispenser. There is not a chance to reinsert the excess. The best hope is to keep the keep the container clean by playing within the rules of the game.
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