If I were head of officiating in the NFL, I would place an asterisked clause at the end of the celebration penalty section of the rulebook excusing what a player does if he catches a bonkers, potentially game-winning Hail Mary for a touchdown.
Short of harming or maiming someone, short of making some kind of truly offensive, horrifying gesture … if a player wants to eat his cleats? That’s fine. If he wants to traverse the end zone doing backflips like a college football cheerleader? Good for him. If he wants to grab a microphone, walk to midfield, commandeer the PA system and sing the first few bars of “America” from West Side Story? I’d allow it. Especially if he does the original choreography, too.
You certainly didn’t miss the basis for this take on Sunday: D.J. Moore, of the plucky, refusing-to-tank Panthers, caught a stunning go ball near the end of regulation to tie the Falcons at 34. After the play was over, he got up, unbuckled his chinstrap and removed his helmet. He jumped into the stands and then proceeded to frolic around the end zone turf with his teammates for a moment before puffing out his chest and walking to the sideline.
He was flagged for removing his helmet, which, thanks to the NFL rulebook, is illegal. The Panthers’ extra point attempt was therefore pushed back 15 yards, and their kicker, despite a clean snap and hold, duffed the kick sending the game into overtime. The Panthers lost, after the same kicker, Eddy Piñeiro, missed an even shorter kick in extra time.
However, the rule makes taking off your helmet illegal in the way smoking weed on your birthday is illegal (in some places). It’s illegal in the way confetti is illegal in Mobile, Ala. (seriously, look it up). Are we really going to enforce this regardless of circumstance? Moore didn’t use his helmet as a weapon like some players do in the course of game action; he simply wanted the millions of people watching that catch to see the face of the guy who made it. He wasn’t hurting anybody, and TV cameras later showed Moore burying his head in his hands as the Falcons stormed the field, as if there’s some conceivable universe where we’re supposed to blame him for all of this.
While I’m sure there are a lot of people out there preaching self-control and knowing the rules and keeping your cool, they have almost certainly never caught a potential game-winning Hail Mary in a professional football game while tens of thousands of people screamed at them. If we had a way to map the human brain during these moments, watching all the neurons and synapses fire like blinking Christmas lights, one would assume the pattern would resemble the result of a chemical-induced euphoria. This is one of the coolest on-field occurrences that will happen in Moore’s life. This may be the most fun he ever has in a singular moment on planet Earth.
If hospitals financially penalized you for crying when your first-born child entered the world, could you do it?
If the pastor at your wedding vowed to make mass 15 minutes longer each time you smiled at your bride or groom, how many of us wouldn’t be sitting in that church all day?
This is what is ultimately so incredibly stupid about some of the NFL’s rules, especially when it pertains to touchdown celebrations. They have created this league which floods its players and coaches with unfathomable levels of pressure and adulation and pure joy, then slaps them on the wrist whenever they put their bodies on a well-deserved second of autopilot and act like a damn human being.
Moore was about as in control of his faculties as you or I would be behind the wheel of a Formula One race car after a few Jägerbombs (on a safe, closed-course track, obviously). He was excited. He wanted everyone to know it. I’m surprised he kept his helmet on for as long as he did.
While there are plenty of reasons for athletes to be cynical about the sports they play, nothing is more frustrating than watching them naturally respond to the conditions of an environment they did not create by people who can’t experience the feelings they experience and then getting penalized for it. This wasn’t Odell Beckham Jr. pretending he was urinating like a dog, or Terrell Owens removing a Sharpie from his socks. This wasn’t Joe Horn and a cellphone. There was no pre-planning in a moment of sobriety. It was not even an inactive Vernon Hargreaves running onto the Super Bowl field with his Bengals teammates after a play that did not involve him.
This was pandemonium, and Moore just wanted to look around for a minute at the sea of chaos he’d just created. Anyone who can’t understand that needs to have more life experiences worth celebrating.
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