Elation without celebration

Tennessee's staff coaches the Vols to play with passion and enthusiasm but to celebrate with dignity and restraint.

That's fortunate because the NCAA has ordered game officials to adopt a hard-line stance on "excessive celebration" this fall. An SEC officiating crew called three excessive-celebration penalties in last weekend's LSU-Georgia showdown. Two went against the Bulldogs, including one with 1:09 left that may have cost them the game.

Given how much Tennessee's offense has struggled this fall, each touchdown the Vols score represents cause for celebration. Yet, the Big Orange has not incurred a single excessive-celebration penalty all season. That's a credit to the discipline of the players and the persistence of the coaches.

"They said we've got to play smart, play with our heads," senior center Cody Sullins said.

After watching the late celebration penalty doom Georgia in its nationally televised game with LSU, Vol head coach Lane Kiffin mentioned the incident to his team prior to Saturday night's scrap with Auburn.

As Sullins recalled: "Coach Kiffin warned us that a school in this game had an excessive celebration penalty, and we needed to watch out for that, keep our heads where they needed to be, stay calm and not get too excited."

Although Kiffin said he and his assistants remind the Vols "endlessly" about the detrimental effect of celebration penalties and other infractions, Sullins said the message is surprisingly simple.

"They just say 'Play smart,'" he said. "They don't say 'You can't do this, you can't do that.' They say to play smart and if you're going to celebrate, celebrate with your team and do it on the sidelines. Don't run out there and make a big scene out there on the field."

All-America safety Eric Berry confirmed that the advice from Vol coaches regarding on-field celebrating is quite simple.

"They basically say, 'Don't do it,'" he said. "A lot of times you see teams on TV doing that (and getting penalized)."

Being an energetic guy who loves football, Berry believes players are entitled to do a little celebrating.

"This is a very passionate sport," he said. "As much work as we put into it, you want to show some emotion."

Berry is understandably concerned about the new emphasis on enforcing the celebration rule. That's because he makes a lot of spectacular plays and routinely celebrates by pointing to the sky. Some view his form of celebrating as a form of showboating.

"I think there's a thin line between them," he said. "A lot of people misunderstand why I point to the sky. I'm just basically giving the glory to God. When they say my name (on the public address system) I just remind the fans that it's God (who deserves the credit). It's a deeper meaning than most people think."

The meaning goes much deeper, in fact, as Berry's subsequent remarks make clear.

"I had three people I played with in high school get shot and killed, so I'm lucky to be here," he said. "I'm going to give thanks to who it needs to go to (God), so I would say it's more appreciation than celebration."

Berry also lost several family members in the past year, which makes his point toward the heavens even more personal to him.

"I had my grandparents pass away and my auntie passed away also, so I'm thankful to be here," he said. "I'm going to give it all every snap and I'm going to be passionate when I play. I'm not going to get up and beat my chest or anything like that but I'll point to the sky just to give Him the glory."


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