Return of the No Fun League?
Remember when the NFL was full of entertaining players and personas? From the Fridge to Lawrence Taylor to Jim McMahon, Ickey Woods, right on down the line, the 1980s and early 1990s were a great time for the league and its fans. The league was exciting, celebrations and flamboyance were as common as the Buccaneers getting pummeled wearing those day glo orange uniforms, and life was good.
You had coaches like Mike Ditka and Jerry Glanville walking the sideline, guys that were larger than life attitude wise, and more than ready to make a quip, a one liner, or something to spice up a press conference. Instead these days, coaches and players are more milquetoast than anything, though some will try to use the word “stoic.”
Bill Belichick is the prime example of the new breed. He dresses like a homeless guy that found NFL merchandise in a dumpster near him, and his press conferences are usually laced with monosyllabic responses and numerous facial looks that all seem to resemble a grimace similar to Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker, or Pam Anderson after botox. Gone are the outbursts that angry coaches would make in reaction to a tough loss like we saw even a few years ago with Dennis Green or Herm Edwards.
Even the majority of the players are more subdued these days. Gone are the days of Terrell Owens pulling a Sharpie from his shoe, or tossing popcorn. Owens, who was as flamboyant as Jesse “The Body” Ventura at times, now just looks old and disinterested at times. What about Joe Horn whipping out his cell phone and supposedly calling his mom? That earned him a hefty fine a few years ago as well. The Lambeau Leap may still be going strong, but it seems that more and more the league continues to crack down on what it deems “excessive” celebrations.
Two weeks ago against Baltimore, Chad Ochocinco of the Bengals tried lobbying an official during a replay challenge for his catch to be considered good. He got a dollar bill from one of the assistant coaches on the sideline and laughingly slipped it to the official. The league office didn’t find the humor in it, fining him $20,000 for the stunt. It was not the only incident for him in recent weeks however. Last week in preparation for their contest with divisional rival Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in a contest that would decide first place in the division, Ochocinco said he planned to send mustard to the Steelers. He said he was sending mustard because “after they (the Steelers) fall behind, they aren’t going to ketchup”, a reference to Heinz Field. However, that was shot down by coach Marvin Lewis, who wisely decided that there was enough bulletin board material out there as it was.
Brent Celek of the Philadelphia Eagles was also embroiled in a bit of controversy with the league recently. After scoring a touchdown last Sunday night against Dallas, Celek struck a pose similar to Captain Morgan, the ever popular fictional spokesperson for Captain Morgan rum. This was actually the second time he pulled the stunt, as early in the season, Celek was one of six Eagles fined $10,000 for the same sort of pose, that coming after a DeSean Jackson touchdown.
It turns out that Captain Morgan was trying to start a grassroots campaign of sorts. It was revealed by Glenn Lehrman, an account director at Rogers and Cowan, who handles promotions for Captain Morgan, that each time a player was caught on camera striking the Captain Morgan pose, that the company was going to donate money to the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. That was going to be $10,000 per appearance in the regular season, $25,000 in the playoffs and $100,000 for any occurrence in the Super Bowl.
However, the NFL put the kibosh on THAT concept as well, in a statement released by Greg Aiello, NFL spokesman:
“The issue is that players are specifically prohibited under our policies from wearing, displaying, promoting or otherwise conveying their support of a commercially identified product during a game while they’re on the field,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Yahoo! Sports. “Whether it’s rum or soft drinks or any other commercial product, that type of promotion is prohibited.”
Then, in perhaps what one can only deem as the most bizarre story in recent weeks involving questionable antics and behavior by someone affiliated with the NFL, Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams was fined $250,000 by the league Monday for his flipping off of the Bills and their fans near the end of the Titans 41-17 win at LP Field in Nashville, a game that was tied 17 all going into the fourth quarter.
Now, Adams is 86. Surely this kind of behavior is something you would expect from a juvenile delinquent, or some other malcontent, but not an owner of a NFL franchise, especially one that has been an owner for half a century. It’s even more galling when you take into consideration the fact that Ralph Wilson, the owner of the Bills, is a fellow original AFL owner, is 90, a Hall of Famer and a class act. Yes, there is history between the teams, from the Miracle at Rich, when the then Houston Oilers blew a 35-3 lead to lose 41-38 in overtime of the 1992 AFC Wild Card contest in a game that saw Buffalo play without Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas or Cornelius Bennett.
The history continued in 2000 with the “Music City Miracle”, when Kevin Dyson took a cross field lateral from Frank Wycheck and sped down the sideline on a kickoff return for an improbable touchdown that helped propel the franchise to their only Super Bowl. Perhaps it was only irony, or maybe karma, that left Dyson and the Titans one yard shy of tying the Super Bowl as the clock expired against the Rams in the Super Bowl that year.
Adams released the following statement Monday before the league handed down their decision:
“I need to apologize for my actions yesterday near the end of the game. I got caught up in the excitement of a great day, but I do realize that those types of things shouldn’t happen. I need to specifically apologize to the Bills, their fans, our fans and the NFL.
“I obviously have a great deal of respect for [Bills owner] Ralph Wilson and the history we have shared. I also understand there will probably be league discipline for my actions and I will accept those.”
Of course, as always with a situation like any of these, you’ll have a fervor of uproar on both sides of the situation, either defending the choice or action, while others condemn it. One thing that has become clear over recent years however, since Paul Tagliabue has stepped aside and Roger Goodell came to power, is that the league is cracking down and won’t tolerate some of the loosey goosey activities that were so prevalent during Pete Rozelle’s tenure.
So long, “Super Bowl Shuffle”. We’ll miss ridiculously overblown and in some cases, stupid, celebrations like the “Ickey Shuffle”, Gus Frerotte slamming his head into the goalposts after scoring a touchdown, Bill Gramatica tearing a knee ligament after kicking a field goal against the Giants, or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats piling into a boat near the end zone and having one player pretending he was fishing, while a second mimicked being in a pedal boat.
It seems that the NFL really has gone back to what so many deem the “No Fun League.”