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Reliving Leon Lett: Marcus Cooper’s Premature Celebration Was the Best Premature Celebration

The Bears cornerback’s fumble led to a legendarily confusing chain of events

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Celebrations are good. This offseason, the NFL acknowledged this when it adjusted its rulebook to allow players to participate in a wider range of celebrations. But it’s generally understood that celebrations should come after a play is completed, something that didn’t quite get through to Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper.

At the end of the first half of Chicago’s matchup with the Steelers on Sunday, Cooper prematurely slowed down while returning a field goal block, allowing a Pittsburgh player to catch up to him and force a fumble on the Steelers 1-yard line. Check it out:

Cooper fumbled before crossing the plane, and the ball flew out the back of the end zone. That led to a complicated scenario — since it passed through the end zone and out of bounds, the result should have been a safety, right? Or since the Steelers didn’t regain possession, should it have been a touchback? Complicating everything is the fact that this happened with zero seconds left in the second quarter — does that mean the half should have ended, or should there have been an untimed down? Here, let the play-by-play explain it:

Oh, that doesn’t help at all. In the confusion, Mike Tomlin sent his team to the locker room, since, according to the TV broadcast, he had been informed that halftime had begun. But the officials were still reviewing the play to figure out what the hell happened. The key to unraveling the confusion is what Jordan Berry, the holder on the field goal attempt, does with the ball in the end zone. Look closely and you’ll see him bat it out the back, which is illegal. By rule, the Bears got the ball at the spot of the fumble, with a penalty enforced for half the distance to the goal. And since the half can’t end on that penalty, the Bears received an untimed down to punch it in. But I prefer the Bears’ explanation: “Ok lots happened there. It’s our ball at the 1.”

One problem: The Steelers had been in the locker room for some five minutes at this point, and needed to run back out for the untimed down. Their tunnel was on the opposite side of the field, which gave us the great sight of Steelers players sprinting toward the end zone to get in position. The confusion should have given the Bears an opportunity to quickly score a touchdown … until Chicago committed a false start. The Bears kicked a field goal on the next play, taking a 17-7 lead into the half.

Marcus Cooper, welcome to the Leon Lett Hall of Fame. That group includes premature celebrators like DeSean Jackson, Nick Young, the Stanford Band, Oregon runner Tanguy Pepiot, and, most recently, this Braves fan. These plays live in infamy because there is nothing like watching a player’s hubris doom them in real time. Premature celebrations are infuriating for the team’s fans, cathartic for the opponents, and hilarious for everyone else. There are few better highlights.

In the case of Cooper, his mistake cost his team four points, which isn’t catastrophic in the grand scheme of things. At least he didn’t do this in the Super Bowl.