Spectacle. That’s the one word that sums up the NFL. From the onset of a game, you have fireworks, jets flying overhead and trained singers belting out the National Anthem. Once the game begins, you have massive men hitting each other with full force as other more agile men perform moves that would make even the most talented of gymnasts jealous.
So it goes without saying that some of these athletes are gifted performers as well. And I’m not just talking about Peyton Manning’s numerous commercial spots. I’m talking about what athletes do AFTER they score a touchdown, their celebrations.
In recent years, the NFL has earned the nickname No Fun League because Roger Goodell and the NFL head office are putting a kibosh on certain touchdown celebrations. Under Goodell’s leadership, players are not allowed to have a group celebration. They’re not allowed to have a seemingly choreographed celebration. They are definitely not allowed to have a “vulgar” celebration. This is all in an effort to give the NFL a family-friendly persona, but as this list demonstrates, sometimes you have the most fun by breaking the rules.
Professional sports still fall under the umbrella of the entertainment business and the NFL seems to fail to remember this when enforcing its rules.
Not all celebrations are created equal, however, as some of them are not so great. Read on. Here are the 8 best and 7 worst touchdown celebrations ever.
8. Best: LaDainian Tomlinson Ball Flip
For the best touchdown celebrations, you are going to see a lot more celebrations that are unique to a player or a team, and this is no exception. LaDainian Tomlinson is one of the best running backs to ever play the game. Besides building this incredibly impressive reputation, Tomlinson also developed his own touchdown routine that became one of his most memorable characteristics. Whenever he got into the end zone, he would put one hand behind his head and flip the ball with the other. Though it was simple and quick, it was a uniquely great way to make a mark in the NFL without drawing criticism. With 119 combined touchdowns in 11 years on the field, there was a lot of opportunity for Tomlinson to perform this little celebration. And it gave the fans a little something extra to look forward to besides the obvious excitement of the touchdown itself.
7. Worst: Danny Amendola Spikes a Ball in Dude’s Face
Danny Amendola may get hurt every five seconds, but when he’s in the game, he can do some damage, and we’re not just talking about yardage and touchdowns. In 2012, Amendola was playing for the Rams and scored a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings. Well, he must have been amped because he spiked the ball so hard that it projected right into this poor usher’s face. At least we hope that it was just because he was amped up–maybe Amendola thought this guy had it coming. Either way, you can’t help but feel bad for the old guy.
If you watch the video, the ball clearly had some velocity as the usher held his face in pain for several seconds. It’s unclear whether Amendola offered an apology to the usher or not, but I definitely wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley if he was equipped with a football.
7. Best: Aaron Rodgers Championship Belt
Ugh. As a Bears fan, it hurts my heart to even acknowledge that this is a thing, but when a celebration launches a national ad campaign, there is no choice but to give it the attention it deserves. When Aaron Rodgers scores a touchdown, he likes to motion like there is a championship belt on his waist. It is now synonymous with State Farm’s Discount Double Check ad where Rodgers, a cheese head fan, and other football players all perform the celebration when asking for the Discount Double Check.
Unfortunately for some, it has proven to be dangerous when other players perform the action. Both Chicago Bears tackle Lamarr Houston and Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch injured themselves after trying the Championship Belt celebration after landing some sacks. It seems as though this celebration should remain unique to Rodgers. He’s just got to stop doing it in Soldier Field, thank you.
6. Best: Marshawn Lynch Groin Grab
With the fines that this celebration incurred, it could have just as easily ended up on the other side of this list, but with Marshawn Luch’s direct disdain towards the NFL institution, it ended up being one of our favorites. Lynch had some historic runs in his career, but his best celebration comes after he ran for 79 yards in a 2014 playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals. He capped off the run with leaping backwards into the end zone and grabbing his crotch. The NFL fined Lynch $11K for this incident.
As we mentioned, Lynch was famously derisive towards the NFL and the media, so he would again grab his crotch the following week against the Green Bay Packers in a much more subtle way, but he would again get fined, this time for $20K. There was even debate whether he subtly grabbed his crotch in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, but a player was blocking his way. Maybe he was just adjusting himself, but I guess we’ll never know.
6. Worst: Tom Brady High Five
This GIF is as good as gold for many NFL fans. It was a blowout win for the Patriots against the Baltimore Ravens in 2013 and all Tom Brady was looking for was a high-five, but it just doesn’t seem like he was able to get one. To me, this confirms one thing that I’ve suspected all along–nobody likes Tom Brady. I mean, sure, you have to give your quarterback props when he’s brought home four Super Bowl championships, but that doesn’t mean you have to like the guy. I kid.
This is actually not the only example of Tom’s high-fives being snubbed. He also got snubbed by his bromance partner Julian Edelman in another 2013 game, this time against the Saints. Maybe Tom forgot to bring the donuts to a 2013 team meeting or something. He eventually got a high-five from Legarrette Blount in a game against the Steelers, but he probably just felt bad for him at that point.
5. Best: The Dirty Bird
After many seasons of the Atlanta Falcons failing to produce championship quality teams, they were finally able to make a run for the Super Bowl in 1998 with a 14-2 record. Even though Atlanta was stacking wins, they didn’t feel that they were getting the recognition they deserved. It was likely due to Atlanta having historically mediocre teams. Because of this, running back Jamaal Anderson decided to create a signature team touchdown dance, and the Dirty Bird was born. It became a team phenomenon and by the end of it, even head coach Dick Vermeil was getting in on the action, performing the Dirty Bird himself.
With their new found fame, the Falcons were able to make it all the way to the Super Bowl, but it wasn’t enough to bring home the Lombardi Trophy. The Denver Broncos swatted the Falcons 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII, cementing John Elway’s second straight Super Bowl win in the twilight of his career.
5. Worst: Terrell Owens Dallas Star
It seemed ironic in 2006 when Terrell Owens joined the Dallas Cowboys, as only six years earlier, he had fueled the ire of the entire Cowboys franchise. Terrell Owens was known for his attention grabbing antics throughout his NFL tenure, but he seemed to have missed the mark in 2000. Owens caught a touchdown from Jeff Garcia in a game against the Cowboys, and as soon as he did, he began running to the center of the field. This confused a lot of people at first, but it eventually became evident what he was doing. Owens found the big Dallas star at the center of the field and did his best Passion of the Christ.
It wasn’t long until Dallas safety George Teague came flying into frame and laid Owens out. George Teague may have done his best to protect the integrity of his team, but he was ejected from the game, while Owens was suspended for a week by head coach Steve Mariucci. Owens quickly earned the forgiveness of Cowboy fans when he signed with them later on.
4. Best: Lambeau Leap
If you’ve watched the Packers, you know what the Lambeau Leap is, but in case you don’t know, the Lambeau Leap is when a Green Bay player scores a touchdown at home and leaps into the crowd into the welcoming arms of fans. Since the Packers are one of the most historic teams in the league, we often think of the Lambeau Leap as being a tradition that dates back to the inaugural days of the NFL, when in fact the Lambeau Leap has only existed since the 90s when it was first performed by safety Leroy Butler after returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 1993.
It is said to have later been popularized by wide receiver Robert Brooks. When the “No Fun League” stepped in and made dunking the ball over the goal’s posts an illegal celebration in 2015, they allowed the Lambeau Leap to stay, allowing players to still perform the celebration.
4. Worst: Randy Moss Moon
This is another example of a bad celebration ending with reconciliation. In 2005, Randy Moss and his Vikings were playing against divisional rival Green Bay Packers. They were playing in Lambeau when Moss caught a touchdown and turned to the crowd and mimed pulling down his pants in a mooning gesture. He only pretended to pull down his pants, but announcer Joe Buck still denounced the act as “disgusting.”
I’ve always thought it was possible that from Buck’s perspective it could have appeared that Moss had actually pulled his pants down; however, his comment seemed to have set the tone for how Moss’ celebration would be received. After the incident, Moss was fined $10K over the affair, and if memory serves, it seemed to be all the analysts could talk about during the following week’s pregame shows. Moss and Buck are now co-workers at Fox and have reportedly cleared the air.
3. Best: Billy Johnson The Funky Chicken
Billy “Whiteshoes” Johnson was a wide receiver for the Houston Oilers in the 70s and despite being a talented receiver and premier punt returner, his most important contribution to the history of the league was his original touchdown celebration dance. Coming into the league, Johnson was already known for his personality, having already earned the name Whiteshoes for dying his cleats white.
He added to this by dancing the Funky Chicken. He came up with some other dances too, but the Funky Chicken is important in the history of the NFL, as it is the first memorable and unique touchdown celebration dance. It may seem tame by today’s standards, but the Funky Chicken began a tradition in the NFL that would be continued to this day. Unfortunately, with the way things are going in the celebration department, it’s possible that even a celebration like this could be fined in the near future.
3. Worst: DeSean Jackson Premature Ball Flip
No one has ever doubted DeSean Jackson’s talent, but this action certainly raised speculation about Jackson’s value on an NFL team. In 2008, Jackson and his Eagles were taking on their divisional rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, and Jackson caught a long bomb and took it to the end zone… almost. Jackson reached the end zone just fine, but before the ball could cross the plane, Jackson flipped the ball backwards and the touchdown didn’t count.
The play would have been Jackson’s first ever professional touchdown, so this must have stung. The Eagles ended up scoring on the drive with a one yard run from Brian Westbrook, but there were plenty of angry fantasy owners who lost out on that sweet, sweet TD. Jackson was able to redeem himself with another stable play of his career when he was able to score on a punt return against the Giants with only 12 seconds left on the clock.
2. Best: The Ickey Shuffle
The truly ironic hipster of the list, the Ickey Shuffle could have just as easily ended up on the other side of this list, but this iconic celebration is synonymous with the Bengals 1988 Super Bowl run. The Cincinnati Bengals have always been the Bungles, and their 1987 season was no different, with the team earning only four wins. No one expected the Bengals to perform well in 1988, but they were able to amass 12 wins and make a trip to the Super Bowl on the back of their rookie running back, Ickey Woods.
Each time he scored a touchdown, Woods would shuffle to the right, shuffle to the left, and then spike the ball. He didn’t get to perform the dance in the Super Bowl, sadly. In his second season, Woods was injured and was never able to get his starting position back. Shuffle to the right, shuffle to the left.
2. Worst: Gus Frerotte Headbutt
What was he even thinking? All the way back in 1997, the Washington Redskins were facing off against their division rivals, the New York Giants, and Washington quarterback Gus Frerotte was so excited about throwing a touchdown that he headbutted the wall in the back of the end zone. It’s hard to understand his train of thought, not that he would be able to remember it after whacking a cement wall, but Frerotte suffered a concussion and a sprained neck after the incident.
Unfortunately for Frerotte, the match-up was that week’s Sunday Night Football event, so the whole nation got to witness this debacle. Frerotte was selected to the 1997 Pro Bowl, but it seems like he will forever be remembered for his lapse in judgement and premier cement ramming skills. And you have to wonder if Frerotte even remembers doing it or if he experienced such an injury that the entire embarrassing event is just a blur.
1. Best: Terrell Owens Sharpie
Okay, I’ve already mentioned Terrell Owens on this list, but let me back it up. In 2002, Owens and the 49ers were facing their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. In that game, Owens scored a touchdown and pulled out a sharpie from his sock and signed the ball and handed it to his financial adviser, who was sitting in the stands. Owens was not fined for this stunt, but the NFL did create a rule that you could not bring foreign objects onto the field. And that’s why this is important. If the Funky Chicken began the tradition of the touchdown dance, then “The Sharpie” was the beginning of the NFL cracking down on touchdown celebrations.
Since this incident, group celebrations, choreographed celebrations, and prop celebrations don’t just result in a penalty for a team, but could also result in the individual players being fined, effectively beginning the era of the No Fun League.
1. Worst: Leon Lett Premature Celebration
The only thing worse than prematurely celebrating and costing your team a touchdown is prematurely celebrating and costing your team a touchdown in the Super Bowl. It was Super Bowl XXXVII and Lett, a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, recovered a fumble and returned it all the way to the end zone, but he slowed down to celebrate and had the ball knocked out of his hand. The ball rolled through the end zone and was ruled a touchback.
Fortunately for Lett and the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills were destined for one of the most depressing records in sports history (four straight Super Bowl losses), and the Cowboys went on to win the game in a dominating performance with a 52-17 victory, but still, that is the type of mental error that you can’t allow during the biggest game in sports. This was also the Super Bowl that kicked off the Dallas Cowboys 90s dynasty.
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