The NFL, despite its position of dominance, is on trial in the court of opinion. Television ratings are down for the second consecutive year as fans complain about stars sidelined by injury, about mediocre quarterback play and a general lack of competitiveness. Just about everything happening between the goal lines, it seems, is drawing criticism.
In the end zones, though? That’s a different story. We have entered the Golden Age of touchdown celebrations, and it is spectacular.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced in May that the league would relax its Myanmar-like restrictions on end-zone festivity, and would tolerate radical acts like group demonstrations and using the football as a prop. You figured the result would be fun, but no one was quite prepared for the Mardi Gras that has ensued.
Ask an NFL player, and he’ll probably have a favorite routine.
“I think the Steelers did like a hide-and-go-seek, that was a good one,” Oakland offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse told me. “(Tight end Travis) Kelce for Kansas City did like a potato sack race. And I like the Electric Slide the Eagles did. That’s probably my top three.”
“Definitely the Star Wars celebration by (Buffalo’s) Zay Jones,” 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas said, betraying his Stanford nerdism as he spotlighted the lightsaber duel between Jones and teammate Andre Holmes. “Wish I had a chance to do that one, or had someone to do it with me.”
Forty-Niners linebacker Reuben Foster nominated two displays of childlike exuberance by the Minnesota Vikings — a game of leapfrog and a round of duck, duck, goose. Raiders tight end Clive Walford gave props to the free throw that running back Leonard Fournette shot through the goal post, with five of his Jaguars teammates positioned outside the key and ready to rebound. Louis Murphy, the 49ers wide receiver, split his ballot between the hide and seek and the Eagles’ human bowling pins.
“I liked when the Steelers did the bench press,” Raiders running back Jalen Richard said. “That was cool. That was cool. Because when I see stuff like that, I be thinking about back on, was it ‘You Think You Can Dance?’ or something? Back in the day with the Jabbawockeez. (Editor’s note: It was “America’s Best Dance Crew.”) Because the Jabbawockeez used to do a lot of different stuff, where they used to all get together and make it look like something. So when I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
And these are just the opening acts of the 2017 Traveling End Zone Revue.
Watch an NFL game these days and you might be transported to ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Packers wide receivers Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson portrayed a bobsled team swaying through a run down the chute. Houston’s Lamar Miller and three teammates ran a relay race after Miller’s TD catch, passing the football like a baton. The Eagles have simulated multiple baseball at-bats, including Torrey Smith blasting a phantom home run and fellow wide receiver Alshon Jeffery charging the mound after getting hit by tight end Zach Ertz’s pitch. Detroit receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. played air pingpong. The Lions also tried to execute a curling slide, Tate rolling the football with sweepers ahead of him, but the pantomime was ruined when the ball hit Jones in the foot.