Loosening up is the smartest thing the NFL has ever done.
No disrespect to the Los Angeles Rams, Carson Wentz or Antonio Brown, but the choreographed celebrations after touchdowns – or, in the Philadelphia Eagles’ case, big defensive plays – are easily the highlight of the season. Creative and funny, they’ve given fans a glimpse of what their favorite players are really like and, as a result, have helped chip away at the NFL’s reputation as the stodgy “No Fun League.”
“We work hard so we feel like the least we can do is have fun out there,” said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, one of the creative directors behind Sunday’s rendition of 'The Electric Slide.'
“It gets the crowd involved and excited,” Jenkins added. “That permeates throughout the whole team.”
Make that the whole league.
One of the biggest criticisms of the NFL in recent years has been its refusal to let its hair down and have a little fun. Wear cleats that send a message, even one that promotes a worthy cause? Nope. Make a snow angel after a touchdown, like kids all over America do in their backyards or neighborhood parks? Uh-uh. Dance after a big play or show even the slightest hint of personality? C’mon now. What do you think this is, the NBA?
Fans didn’t understand the fuss. Players complained. And, finally, the NFL caved, announcing in May that it was relaxing its penalties for choreographed celebrations.
“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," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in announcing the change.
Even with a few, clearly spelled out restrictions, there was no doubt some trepidation from 345 Park Ave. and a few owners’ boxes. No matter your feelings on a two-pump limit, we can all agree that hearing Goodell weigh in on it once was one time too many.
But they need not have worried. Finally given the freedom to let their humor and creativity show, players have embraced it wholeheartedly.
The Lions played Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. The Chiefs had a potato sack race. The Packers climbed into a bobsled. A few days after his beloved bicycle – and main mode of transportation – was stolen, setting off a citywide recovery effort, JuJu Smith-Schuster chained up a bike near the Steelers bench.
The Vikings’ even managed to make one of their celebrations a teachable moment, informing the rest of the country that while it might be "Duck, Duck goose" everywhere else, it’s “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck” in Minnesota. (Kyle Rudolph will never make that mistake again.)
The best part is that, instead of teams running out of ideas, the celebrations are only getting better as the season goes on. Watching the Vikings play leap frog is never going to get old. The Eagles could have called it a day after the offense went bowling Sunday, only to have the defense top it with "The Electric Slide."
(If you haven’t seen it yet, Google it immediately. You can thank me.)
“One of my favorite things that happened in this NFL this year are those end zone celebrations,” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said Sunday night. “We see these young people for what they are. They’re in their 20s, they’re fun-loving, social media, all that kind of stuff. So we get a chance to meet them. For the most part, people who watch the NFL, sometimes they see the issues that get attached to these players.
“But those celebrations have let us see young kids having fun with football. And I love watching it. I really do.”
There are always going to be a few curmudgeons who hate fun. But Collinsworth speaks for most of us who remember that, despite its outsized place in our society, the NFL is still just a game. The stakes might be higher and the players’ bank accounts bigger, but it’s not so different than what kids all over the country are doing at recess and after school.
“Listen, the guys are having fun doing it, they're having fun playing together,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “This game is hard enough. And when you score, you kind of want them to celebrate together, and that's a great thing.”
The best thing of the season. By far.