Would Billy Johnson without the "funky chicken" be just another guy who wore white shoes? Would Elbert Woods without the "Ickey Shuffle" be just...icky? Who would Mark Gastineau be without the "Sack Dance"? Well, O.K., who would Brigitte Nielsen be? Or Lisa Gastineau, Mark's ex? Or any other Gastineau companions or photo-op partners or tattoo sharers whom Mark and his infamously whacked-out waltz kept out of career oblivion, the divorce poor-house and assorted other hellholes while the former New York Jet defensive end was permitted to raise his arms, beat his chest, stomp his feet, whirl his head, bop his booty, rant, rave and otherwise engage in prolonged, excessive or premeditated celebration?
These are significant questions as the NFL begins another season, one especially dedicated to the proposition that Nobody Finds Laughter. Give the NFL the rights to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the world would be safe from clowns.
The NFL's Grinchinization is at full cry again simply because in the off-season, the league vowed to crack down on the enforcement of Rule 12, Article 14c, regarding "demonstrations," by which a five-yard penalty is imposed for—are you paying attention?—"any prolonged, excessive or premeditated celebration."
The rule also notes, in a shocking departure from form, that "spontaneous expressions of exuberance will be permitted." This means that high fives and touchdown spikes are still O.K.—Wow! Excuse us for living!—an obvious sop to commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has always wanted to get down and dance the nude lambada with a lamp shade on his head at the annual league meetings.
However, the NFL's Competition Committee (known in player circles as the Fun Police) tried its best to get the crackdown established by law, not by simple reaffirmation, and recommended that the penalty for such unsportsmanlike conduct routines as Indianapolis Colt Clarence Verdin's "Verdance," Houston Oiler Ernest Givens's "Electric Slide," Atlanta Falcon Andre Rison's "Highlight Zone," Tampa Bay Buc Broderick Thomas's yet to be unveiled "Buc Jump" and Anybody Who's Anybody's celebration-of-choice "Nestea Plunge" be increased to 15 yards for a player's second offense in a game. One member of the comp committee, who shall remain brainless, even suggested "expelling these jiggly-wiggly guys from the game; just get rid of 'em." But when the stiffer penalty was brought up for consideration at the NFL's meetings in Hawaii in March, saner heads prevailed—probably with lamp shades on—and the 15-yarder was overwhelmingly dismissed without a vote.
"You know what I told the owners at the meetings?" says Atlanta Falcon coach Jerry Glanville. "Suppose that guy from Buffalo [kicker Scott Norwood] makes the field goal to beat the Giants in the Super Bowl. The kick goes up and the Giants think it's wide and they're celebrating. Then it hooks good and the Bills are jumping up and down. What have you got, offsetting celebrations? The game's tough enough. Why just make it tougher?" But the scoundrels have.
"What do the players think? It doesn't matter," says Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith. "They're taking all the enjoyment out of the game. I haven't got anything [new celebrations] planned. It's not worth it anymore."
What was it that chain-gang guard said in Cool Hand Luke? "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
The men who set the rules in pro football are ancient, Geritol-guzzling, fuddy-duddy relics, rooted in the late 1950s and '60s, when the NFL exploded upon the American consciousness featuring that legendary party animal, Vince Lombardi. A generation gap later we have players who were brought up on glitz, MTV and those hallowed twin peaks of national With-Itness, Arsenio Hall and M.C. Hammer. Is it any wonder gridiron folks just got-to-got-to-got-to-got-to dance?
"I don't say this in a derogatory sense, but the players are like children," Jim Finks, the president and general manager of the New Orleans Saints who is also chairman of the competition committee, says in a nonderogatory sense. "They push you as far as they can. If you don't stop them, they're going to do it their way. This isn't about Ickey Woods. Where does it stop? Somebody's going to out-Ickey Ickey."