Fun has sometimes been elusive during the first six weeks of this NFL season. Much of the conversation about the league has (rightly) been tied to player protests and the message surrounding them. Several of the league’s biggest stars are already on the shelf for the season after suffering devastating injuries. And the standings are mired in mediocrity, with a significant swath of the league entering Week 7 hovering around the .500 mark.
A welcome exception to all that joylessness has been watching players take advantage of the league’s new, relaxed rules involving player celebrations. With the league’s history of hating all that is worthwhile about humanity, its idiocy on post-touchdown extracurriculars is guaranteed to shine through occasionally. (See the 15-yard penalty on Le’Veon Bell for going 12 rounds with the goal post last week in Kansas City.) For the most part, though, guys have used the rules to treat the end zone like their own personal playground, and I couldn’t be happier about it. So after a month and a half of coordinated celebrations, I wanted to round up the best ones and settle which team has made the most of their new reality.
8. Devonta Freeman’s Free Throw
It’s tough to give the nod to Freeman here, considering he wasn’t even the first player to pull this out. That would be Demetrius Harris of the Chiefs, who got a bucket against the Patriots after a score in Week 1. A few crucial variations give the Falcons running back the edge, though.
First, every time one of these can involve a lineman, it should. It’s about inclusion, yes, but it’s also about comedy. There’s just something wonderful about left guard Andy Levitre holding his big ol’ arms out there to make the hoop and something genuinely childlike in his reaction. The end zone is foreign territory to these guys, and the resulting enthusiasm when they get to be a part of a touchdown celebration is very real.
The other factor that bumps Harris off the list is that it’s just an awful shot. Tyreek Hill—who served as the hoop—had to shift, turn, contort, and kneel just to make the free throw go in! Without Hill’s literal shifting goal post, Harris would have joined Markelle Fultz among guys who are currently unwatchable from the line. Freeman was absolutely money, and that matters here.
7. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Playing Ping-pong
The Lions are already kings in this arena, and this won’t be the first time they make the list. The double dutch act they pulled out in the preseason against the Jets was excellent, and Tate dropping the People’s Elbow on the ball last week against the Saints was the best individual celebration I’ve seen that wouldn’t have been possible under the old rules.
The end zone: Where meets pic.twitter.com/0aY56ZjkJU— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 20, 2017
With this one—from Detroit’s Week 2 win against the Giants—Tate and Jones volleying the ball back and with perfect timing was undeniably impressive, but what truly sets the ping-pong celebration apart is left guard Graham Glasgow. The awkwardness of it all is so perfect. It’s like a particularly cringe-worthy Curb scene. Glasgow walks over, doesn’t realize Tate can’t see him, waits for a second, considers turning around, and then finally just pats Tate on the head. It’s a universal moment that we can all relate to. They should hang this video in a museum.
6. The Packers’ Receivers Feel the Rhythm and Feel the Rhyme
Green Bay’s bobsled team makes it based mostly on how weird this idea was. There’s an endless pool of quirky team sports to choose from. They could have done a bump, set, spike (without or without the ball). Atlanta went with a relay race against the Lions. The Eagles—who we’ll get to—hit theirs way outta here.
Instead, Jordy Nelson played the break man on a bobsled team as he, Randall Cobb, and Davante Adams leaned back and forth for a bit before running out of the sled? I get that we’re in the “no bad ideas in a brainstorm” era with these, but I would read 10,000 words on the meeting that ended with, “Yep, bobsled. That’s it.”
5. The Lions’ Curling Disaster
#WatchTheZone Alert!@Lions with the celebration #DETvsATL pic.twitter.com/gEY9XIW3ec— GMFB (@gmfb) September 24, 2017
While we’re on the topic, let’s stick with obscure sports that are only mentioned during the few weeks that people pretend to care about the Winter Olympics. Detroit landing on curling as its activity of choice isn’t quite as bewildering as the Packers decision. Curling is so weird that it’s actually funny. You can understand how Golden Tate got there. But my favorite part about the Lions’ experiment is just how horribly it went.
To start, the toss by Tate has way too much on it. He may be the early front-runner for Team Celebrations MVP, but Tate looks like he would be terrible at pushing that rock thing down an ice rink. Kenny Golladay and Theo Riddick, the pair doing the brushing on the left (those guys are called sweepers, which is the one thing that makes sense about this sport), barely have time to get their brooms down. And poor Marvin Jones. What’s he even supposed to be doing here? He turns into a 6-foot-2 bowling pin. The exciting part about these celebrations going forward is that as they start to escalate, there are going to be some epic, flaming disasters. Those are going to be the most fun.
4. The Colts Do a Live Stage Adaptation of ‘Heat’
There’s a lot happening here. Let’s break it down.
There’s an unfortunate cutaway on the broadcast angle, but the whole thing starts with Donte Moncrief punching some numbers into what is presumably a safe. Based on every heist movie I’ve ever seen, it seems like this is just embarrassingly shoddy security. If all Chris Pine needed to do in Hell or High Water was type a few digits on a keypad, the movie would have been 12 minutes long. And somehow, Ben Foster still would have creeped me out like five times.
I assume that Jack Mewhort, no. 75, is trying to break down the door as he comes stomping in, which sort of makes sense, but not really if it’s a safe? I dunno, I like that he’s getting involved. He’s got good energy.
What puts this over the top is the dedication to the bit all the way through the end. T.Y. Hilton throwing the sack of money over Moncrief’s shoulder is a nice touch, and I love that Moncrief carries it out all the way to the sideline. It’s like a quarterback who doesn’t skimp on his play fakes. The details matter, people.
3. Washington’s Go-to Flight Marshal Celebration
Iono what people have been making it to be, but it’s a dope celebration— Master Tesfatsion (@MasterTes) October 15, 2017
Courtesy of the Washington secondary, we have our first branded, recurring celebration on the list. When the league first announced it was considering the rule change regarding group celebrations, my mind went right to this specific category. As a guy who grew up with the Dirty Bird, the Bob and Weave, and the Mile High Salute, consistent group celebrations hold a very special place in my football heart.
This offseason, the Washington defensive backs decided to go with “Flight Marshals” as their unit-wide nickname, and even if it’s a little derivative (“No Fly Zone,” etc.), I’m for it. The Dark Ages of sports nicknames we’re now in hasn’t spared group nicknames. DBs around the league have done a decent job (Thank you, Legion of Boom), but that’s where it ends. I need a current version of the Purple People Eaters, and I need it now.
Anyway, what I appreciate about the guys in Washington is that they’ve taken it to another level with a trademark way to celebrate big plays. It makes this defense 10 percent more fun to watch, knowing that if they get a pick, you know exactly what’s coming. And that’s what we’re after.
2. Torrey Smith’s Moon Shot
With the Eagles’ home run celebration from Week 5, it’s all about execution. Calais Campbell has used the solo homer as his personal sack celebration for years, but Philly managed to get a lot of guys in on the act in perfect harmony.
Smith’s slow bat wave as he’s waiting for the pitch is the type of subtlety I’m looking for, and I appreciate Alshon Jeffery’s willingness to get all the way down there to play catcher. I’m not entirely sure what LeGarrette Blount and Zach Ertz are supposed to be doing, but even with that in play, combine Smith’s smooth swing with every guy seemingly saluting the ball leaving the yard at the same time, and you get group celebration magic.
1. The Vikings Play Duck, Duck, Goose. And Yes, That’s What It’s Called.
According to Kyle Rudolph, the apparent mastermind behind this whole thing, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that came about in the huddle immediately before the play. "I was the one who scored, thankfully, because I don't sit 'crisscross-applesauce' very well," Rudolph said after the game, in what may be the best moment from all this.
There are a few reasons that among all the celebrations we’ve seen this year, this one takes the top spot:
- The Vikings get points for getting this many guys involved, even if it’s just to sit in a circle and not do much else. Seeing Case Keenum and the rest of the offense sprint to the end zone just to be a part of it was fantastic.
- Stefon Diggs clearly has no idea how to play Duck, Duck, Goose.
- Watching center Pat Elflein tear off the ground to start to chase Rudolph is an odd but useful reminder that NFL players may technically be human but physically, are like you and I in no discernible way.
But what truly makes this one the best in my mind is that it’s right in the sweet spot of what this change was supposed to accomplish in the first place. All season, NFL players have shown what type of positive social change they can bring in their communities. They wield immense power, and they’ve used that platform in a truly meaningful way. On the field, though, this is a game many of them started playing for one reason: It was fun. Football at its purest makes us feel like giddy kids, and adding another layer to that is what this new era of celebrations is about. That a Monday Night Football game set off a nationwide debate about how ridiculous it is for Minnesota to call this game “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” is all I want from touchdowns.