Where's the Choreography Police?

Updated: December 15, 2003, 6:22 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

You can smell it in the air, and keep the smart remarks to yourselves. There's a backlash a-comin', villagers, and it's a-comin' hard and fast.

Chad Johnson
AP PhotoBengals receiver Chad Johnson's message didn't get through to the NFL office.
This time, it's celebration backlash, and it's going to land all over Joe (I'm On The) Horn, and Chad (Will Mime For Food) Johnson, and Kevan (Two Touchdowns, Two Fumbles) Barlow, and T.J. (Scoreboard? What Scoreboard?) Duckett, and to a slightly more understandable level, Tyrone (Weather Channel) Poole.

These gentlemen all scored touchdowns Sunday (well, Poole didn't, but he should have). They all celebrated those touchdowns in their own particular idioms (in other words, they did everything but drop trou). And they're all going to be unmercifully mocked for days.

Horn hid a cellphone so he could report one of his four touchdowns at the same time that Mike Patrick did. Johnson scored, and held up a sign begging not to be fined by the NFL again. Barlow fumbled twice inside the Cincinnati 15-yard line in a game the 49ers lost by a field goal, but when he did score, he used the ball to shoot a little good-natured end zone craps. Duckett scored Atlanta's sole touchdown in a 38-7 loss to Indianapolis and danced as though his team were ahead by three scores rather than the other way around.

And Poole? He intercepted a Byron Leftwich pass, but couldn't tell where the end zone was because of a classic New England snowfall, and was tackled short of the goal because he celebrated before he got to the end zone.

And you know what the reaction was? A moment's laughter, and then a severe, "They're ruining the league, Titus! They're ruining football for everyone!"

Well, that wasn't the only reaction, but you may rest assured that it was the reaction at Tagliabue World Headquarters, and the result will be a new and more oppressive crackdown on end zone celebrations.

Bet on it, kids. You'll hear lots of bleating about the return of the No Fun League, and the stifling of freedom of expression, and all that other please-stop-before-my-ears-slide-off-my-head-in-self-defense claptrap, but it's coming. The coaches are already making their displeasure known, and they're going to want backup at the league level.

And so it shall be. There will be a new rule next year at the latest, and it will make Barry Sanders' touchdown celebrations look like Britney Spears with a highway flare down her shorts.

In the meantime, the TD makers and booty-shakers had better get their pyrospectaculars in while they can. There are only two weeks of full expression left, and then the 11 games of the postseason, and then it's over, Rover.

Terrell Owens started the prop phase of end zone celebrations a year ago when he pulled a pen out of his sock to sign the football.
So Terrell Owens is hiring dancing girls. Clinton Portis is trying to sign Penn and Teller. Correll Buckhalter is booking Bernie Mac. Derrick Mason will spit fire into the stands. Joey Galloway, ever mindful of Bill Parcells' withering eye, is hiring Marlee Matlin to mime the Gettysburg Address.

And Poole is getting a NASCAR flag man to show him the actual end zone instead of the one he thinks he sees.

We are fast reaching the evolutionary zenith of touchdown celebrations. A mere full-throttle booty-shake isn't cutting it any more, not even with the cast of Drumline. Dante Hall could bring a hidden mike with him and do a medley of the best lines in "Bad Santa," and people would stretch their arms and yawn. Randy Moss could dip himself in plaster and form a statue of himself, and folks will say, "Yeah, but what have you got for us next time?"

And maybe they'll all do it in the next couple of weeks. Deadlines have a way of firing creativity, you know.

The problem, though, is that part of creativity is spontaneity, and hiding a cellphone just in case isn't spontaneity. Neither is posting a sign in the stands for that special occasion. Even the famous soccer celebration by Nigerian Finidi George, who crawled to the corner flag after a goal and lifted his leg to mark his territory, showed less planning.

And maybe that's what we're missing here -- a sense of on-the-spot whimsy. I mean, you'd have thought someone would have scored Sunday and pulled out a life-size poster of Saddam Hussein having his beard checked for lice. Sure it's cheap grandstanding, but if you're playing to the crowd anyway ...

Now let's understand here that end zone celebrations are not inherently evil, or even stupid. They're actually pretty helpful entertainment aids for those who grew up after the age of "Act like you've been there before." And frankly, Homer Jones' first spike was very cool indeed.

But when you've got to go first to office supplies (Owens) and now cellular technology (Horn), you're losing the fun of it. We're only moments away from Alge Crumpler pulling out a picture phone, or Torry Holt hauling a sketch artist from the stands, or Jamal Lewis yanking a mannequin's severed head out of a bowling bag.

And we've only got moments left, too. Trust us, the Choreography Police will wield its slammed fist of knock-it-off before you know it. They have uniform monitors, for God's sake; you think they're going to let this stuff slide?

So when you tune in Sunday to watch Stephen Davis score, and he pulls out a plasma TV, straps it to his helmet and becomes his own replay, understand that it may be the last time you ever see it. If Todd Heap shinnies up the goal post holding a lightning rod and a frozen dinner in hopes of becoming a human microwave oven, it'll be his one and only foray into on-field cooking.

Because, as the old philosopher Daffy Duck said after he received a standing ovation for drinking nitroglycerine and blowing himself to smithereens, "Yeah, it's a great trick, but I can only do it once."

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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