FAB 2. NFL Is No Longer “No Fun League”
May 23 was a day of celebration for NFL players in more ways than one. That was the day when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell penned a memo to fans letting them know that the league was going to ease up on its rules regarding player celebrations, especially after touchdowns.
After decades of being called the “No Fun League” for cracking down on celebrations through the years, Goodell spoke with more than 80 former and current NFL players about relaxing the celebration rules.
It’s about time.
“We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown,” Goodell said in the letter. “And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.
“We saw a lot of interest in liberalizing and allowing the players a little more freedom to be able to express their joy, their individuality and frankly celebrate the game. So that’s what we think we’ve accomplished here.”
Goodell has been criticized – and rightfully so – for many things, including being slow to address the issue of domestic violence regarding NFL players, Deflategate and the suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady and the league’s ongoing fight to suspend Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott – some say without proper cause.
But Goodell got this one right – thankfully.
In Sunday’s 29-7 win we saw Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans elaborate on their celebratory basketball moves. The two began the celebration a year ago by running by each other and doing a lay-up.
“I think it’s cool that the league relaxed the rules,” Evans said. “It’s good for the game. Jameis and I have been doing that since last year – he just dunked it this time. It’s the ‘Euro Filaay.’”
I’m 45, not a Millennial, and not nearly as hip as I used to be – and I considered myself kinda hip back in the day (damn, I sound old). I had no idea what “Euro Filaay,” and if you are over 40, chances are you don’t either.
So I looked it up – in the Urban Dictionary, of course.
“Filaay” means “When you make a tough ass layup.”
The “Euro” part of it is making a “Euro step,” which is a basketball move where an offensive player picks up his dribble, takes a step in one direction, and then quickly takes a second step in another direction, according to Wikipedia.
With the relaxed rules, Evans and Winston took the celebration to another level after their touchdown against the Bears, doing the “Euro Filaay” with Evans throwing an imaginary ball up in the air like a lay-up and Winston acting like he was reverse dunking it.
“It looked good to me,” Bucs wide receiver Humphries said. “They’ve been doing that for a year now and it looked smooth. Mike is smooth. He is a great basketball player. I’ve never seen Jameis on the court, but I’m sure he can move it around a little bit. It looked good and whatever edit they did to the video was cool, too.”
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) September 17, 2017
BleacherReport.com had an interesting article called “The Death Of The NFL Touchdown Celebration,” which essentially documents the beginning of the “No Fun League.” The NFL began cracking down on end zone celebrations in 1984 when it targeted the Washington Redskins’ Fun Bunch, which consisted of tight end Rick “Doc” Walker, receivers Art Monk, Charlie Brown, Alvin Garrett and Virgil Seay and running back Otis Wonsley. The group formed a circle in the end zone and began doing a big high-five after touchdowns.
When Monk scored a touchdown in a 31-10 win at Dallas Stadium in 1983, two Cowboys, cornerback Dennis Thurman and safety Michael Downs, took issue and interrupted the Fun Bunch by getting in the middle of the circle. The NFL outlawed group celebrations in the 1984 offseason as a result, although the NFL never implicated the Redskins as the culprits.
Cincinnati running back Elbert “Ickey” Woods became famous for doing his “Ickey Shuffle” after scoring touchdowns, but in 1989 the “No Fun League” struck again, banning premeditated celebrations in the end zone, the field of play or the area near the end zone out of bounds. Woods found a way around that by going over to the sidelines and doing it for the fans.
The NFL then notified Woods that he couldn’t do it within view of the Bengals’ opponents or it would draw an unsportsmanlike penalty. So he limited it to doing it behind the Bengals bench and only at home games.
Although the rules were still on the books in the 1990s, the league didn’t enforce them nearly as much when Paul Tagliabue replaced Pete Rozelle as NFL Commissioner. Deion Sanders, who played for Atlanta, San Francisco and Dallas, was allowed to strut and high step into the end zone, Atlanta’s Jamaal Anderson was allowed to do the “Dirty Bird” after scoring touchdowns for the Falcons and Chiefs defensive end Neil Smith was allowed to pretend to swing a bat and hit a home run after sacks in Kansas City.
It got extreme in the 2000s when Terrell Owens grabbed a Sharpie and autographed a football after a touchdown in San Francisco, while New Orleans receiver Joe Horn hid a cellphone in the goalpost padding and acted like he was making a call after one of his touchdowns.
In 2014, former Bucs tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was flagged for a costly unsportsmanlike conduct for doing the “Captain Morgan” pose and standing on top of the football after scoring a touchdown against the Falcons. Because of the NFL’s rule change regarding celebrations, players can now use the ball as a prop, as Kansas City rookie running back Kareem Hunt did after scoring his second touchdown against Philadelphia last week.
So if ASJ were to do the “Captain Morgan” pose today he wouldn’t get fined.
“I understand the thought process on both sides of the rule change,” Bucs backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “I think it’s good that they relaxed it, but there is a timing element of it and I think the Steelers got burned with it this week in terms of celebrating and focusing too much on that and then getting a delay of game called. They wanted to go for two points, but got a delay of game penalty and then had to kick it.”
— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) September 17, 2017
Despite the rule change, the NFL starts the play clock for the extra point immediately after the touchdown. In other words, the league doesn’t mind if players do a skit – just don’t put on a Broadway play.
“That adds an interesting element to it where the celebration isn’t going to take over,” Fitzpatrick said. “They are limiting the props that guys can use. I think it’s a good thing for these guys. It’s tough to get in the end zone in this league, so to allow their creative juices to flow is good. This league is driven by superstars, and this allows a light to be cast on them. Some guys will incorporate teammates, and maybe it’s a lineman that wouldn’t necessarily get to do something like celebrate, so I think that’s good.”
Last year, Bucs safety Chris Conte may have been close to being flagged for falling down in the end zone and being surrounded by his teammates after his dramatic pick-six against Chicago, his former team in the 36-10 blowout win.
“I wasn’t thinking about it then, but afterwards I was thinking ‘Shoot, hopefully I don’t get fined for that,’” Conte said. “I don’t think I did get fined for it. Things like that, it would be nice to not have to worry if I’m going to get fined or not.
“It’s an emotional game, a game that you want to play with your personality and let that out. The rule change allows guys to express themselves without making a fool of themselves, or disrespecting anyone else. It’s nice to let guys show their personalities and some emotion out there.”
The league has a long way to go to generate more fan interest as attendance in NFL stadiums and television ratings are on the decline. I’ll share some of my thoughts on ways to fix the NFL – along with some of the opinions on the Bucs players I spoke with this week in the locker room – next in SR’s Fab 5. But allowing the players to have fun after scoring was a much-needed fix that was long overdue.
“I think it’s awesome they changed the rules because of the amount of work that goes in to scoring a touchdown – it’s hard,” Humphries said. “You used to have to worry about a flag and a fine. How much the fines are depends on how involved the celebration is. I’ve never had to worry about it because I’ve always been more of a hand-the-ball-to-the-ref guy. You work so hard to score that you want to celebrate with your teammates. It’s cool that they’ve relaxed that rule.”