The NFL may be helplessly stumbling between crises like a turkey-headed Mr. Bean, but there’s at least one cause for celebration: the celebrations. In May, commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league would relax its prohibition on “spontaneous displays of emotion.” The results thus far have been delightful, if not necessarily spontaneous.
Take the Philadelphia Eagles, whose intricate displays of choreographed joyousness are starting to form an extended narrative. It started on Oct. 8, when players performed a pantomime of a batter knocking one out of the park.
On Sunday, tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery built on that theme with a routine in which Wentz hit Jeffery with a pitch and got chased off the imaginary mound.
The NFL, with its shield and frozen tundras, has always taken itself too seriously. Rarely is this fact more evident than in those instances when grown men are punished for being happy. In 2014, then New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was fined $30,000 for twice slamming the ball over the crossbar. “You can’t really have fun any more,” Graham said at the time. (In the league’s defense, Graham did this during a preseason game. No one should have fun during preseason games.) That same year, Husain Abdullah of the Kansas City Chiefs was penalized for “unsportsmanlike conduct” because he dropped to his knees in prayer after scoring a touchdown. That’s because, according to Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(d) of the old rulebook, “Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.” After the game, an NFL spokesperson had to clarify that the refs got the call wrong because “the officiating mechanic … is not to flag a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression.” Thanks to the new rules, players are now allowed to go to ground whether or not they are engaging in religious prostration.
Had the Eagles performed either of those baseball celebrations a year ago, the players would have have been fined and the team would have been penalized 15 yards during the ensuing kickoff. The old rules, which were enacted in 2006, prohibited players from using the ball as a prop. They also weren’t allowed to engage in group celebrations, which was a shame because, as we’re learning this year, they happen to be very good at them. Just look at the Green Bay Packers hitting the bobsled track on Oct. 8.
Equally fun was the Minnesota Vikings’ game of duck, duck, goose.
Football is a sport with far too little charm, and it’s refreshing to see these adorable displays of camaraderie. Congratulations to Roger Goodell for fixing the NFL’s dumbest, most unnecessary problem.