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NFL Loosens Rules On End-Zone Celebrations After Touchdowns


For years, NFL players have grumbled that NFL stands for No Fun League. A big part of that was the league's increasing intolerance of touchdown celebrations, the dancing in the end zones. Well, some fun is coming back. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced yesterday that certain celebrations will be allowed. NPR's Tom Goldman reflects on the return of pro football's touchdown jubilation.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Three-point-six - that's the average number of touchdowns per game by the Atlanta Falcons last season - only 3.6. And that was tops in the NFL. In other words, the most important part of a football game really doesn't happen that much. And think about all that leads up to that rare moment - the blocking, hitting, crunching, the risk to limb, brain and, yes, life. The dangers of football have been well-documented in recent years. So when you get through all that and an opponent doing everything they can to stop you - when you break through and cross the goal line, of course you want to dance like Billy White Shoes Johnson did in the 1970s and '80s or Victor Cruz does in today's NFL.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Caught for the touchdown - time to salsa.

GOLDMAN: Now, of course a few players over the years have turned end zone celebrations into performance art. Steve Smith Sr. changed a ball's diaper. Terrell Owens has taken a nap with the ball as a pillow, grabbed popcorn and eaten it in the end zone, pulled a sharpie from his sock and autographed the football for a fan and dropped a ball into a Salvation Army kettle in the end zone.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: That's his donation to the Salvation Army Red Kettle drive.

GOLDMAN: Over the years, a lot of fans laughed at the show while the penalty flags flew.


UNIDENTIFIED REFEREE: Unsportsmanlike conduct, excessive celebration, number 22.

GOLDMAN: No fun. But now get ready for players without fear using the football as a prop after touchdowns, players celebrating on the ground - yay, snow angels - and group demonstrations. With OTAs - organized team activities - underway as part of offseason training, it wouldn't be surprising if ideas for new and hilarious group demonstrations are starting to percolate.

Now, before we crown Roger Goodell the new cool dad of the NFL letting the kids have their fun, he of course has his limits. Prolonged celebrations that delay a game, celebrations directed at an opponent - hey, nobody likes a jerk - and what Goodell calls offensive demonstrations - Antonio Brown and you other pelvis thrusters, we're talking to you - all of that stuff still will get a penalty flag. But in a few months, the 2017 season should be the start or return of something fun - still dangerous as hell but fun. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RJD2'S "DESCENDED FROM MYTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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