Former longtime Japan resident Dave Wiggins, who was a sports columnist and television analyst in Tokyo, is now a sports writer based in Vero Beach, Florida. He will be contributing a bi-monthly column on the North American sports scene to The Japan Times beginning today. Wiggins, who was a TV sportscaster in Hawaii for several years prior to his time in Japan, is known for his keen observations and acerbic wit. In 2006, he was honored with the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Time was in the NFL that it wasn’t cool to act the fool. My, how things have changed.
Now, you’re not cool UNLESS you act the fool.
These days, it seems after every play — no matter how routine — someone celebrates in the most asinine way. Most of the time, it is hideously choreographed.
And sadly, many fans seem to lap up these sickening, self-celebratory post-play performances. Nowadays when I become disgusted with the players’ decorum, or lack thereof, I feel like a cult of one, like the world’s a black tuxedo and I’m a pair of brown shoes.
Doesn’t anyone else get it?
I remember the days when once in a great while, a player would indulge in a joyous outburst after scoring a TD. Usually it was a guy who rarely scored — like a defensive lineman who had just scooped up a fortuitous fumble and lumbered twenty yards unimpeded for a score.
But usually the Paul Hornungs and Jim Browns of last century just flipped the ball to the referees or dropped the ball in the end zone and trotted off the field. Maybe they would engage in a reserved handshake with a teammate or enjoy a slap on the back for a job well done.
Backs and receivers were expected to know better. Once when a young Cleveland Browns runner went a bit overboard in showing his happiness after scoring, Browns Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown famously scolded him by saying: “Son, act like you’ve been there before.”
For years that was the pro and college football player’s mantra. Translated it meant “Be cool, not a fool.”
Then, innocently enough, it all began to change in the 1970s.
First, Elmo Wright, a wide receiver for the University of Houston and then the Kansas City Chiefs, began to run in place, lifting his knees high and fast, in the end zone after catching a TD pass.
I have to admit I actually enjoyed Wright’s TD thing. It was kinda cool and different.
When Wright bought his shtick to the NFL as a Kansas City Chief, several others followed suit.
The Houston Oilers’ Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, who I knew as a high schooler from my days as a prep head football coach in suburban Philadelphia, then brought a wobbly-legged TD dance to the celebratory table. It, too, was neat and fun.
When we crossed paths later in our careers in Hawaii — Johnson as Pro Bowler, me as a TV sports announcer — I told him it looked like an old Philly dance called the “Funky Chicken.”
“You’re exactly right,” Shoes laughed. He told me he didn’t want to show up the other team, so he would always run to a far corner of the end zone, flap his legs a bit alone and then quickly run off the field.
A bit later, came the New York Jets’ Mark Gastineau’s enjoyable whirling dervish-like sack dance.
After them, though, in the words of Louis XVI, came the deluge. Everybody and his brother tried to emulate them. The celebrations soon became just plain stupid-looking.
The demise in quality probably began with Detroit tight end David Hill doing a bump-and-grind routine that my Dad said was called the “Dirty Dig” back in his day.
Things snowballed and got so bad that the NFL briefly outlawed non-spontaneous celebrations. But then there was an outcry against such behavioral rules.
Fans and players alike complained that NFL stood for “No Fun League.” So, the league suits backed off. Result: the excessive celebration rule is rarely enforced these days.
Several decades later, obnoxious spectacles are now carried out after almost every play and they keep getting lamer. And the players make bigger horses’ arses out of themselves.
Now, even worse, it’s seeped down into and infecting college and high school football. And spread to other sports.
Call me old school or a curmudgeon if you must, but MAS (Man About Sports) has reached the point where he still loves the games but hates the players — or the way many act, anyway,
Psychologists blame the “Me Generation” (which preceded current Gen X) in the U.S. for the wholesale changes in player deportment. It’s a reflection of U.S. society as a whole, shrinks say.
Yeah, I get it. Sadly, cool has morphed into fool.
Contact Man About Sports at: firstname.lastname@example.org