The Evolution Of the NFL End Zone Celebration

. .Contributor IFebruary 5, 2010

Chad Ochocinco, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens are arguably the three most popular receivers in the NFL, but why?

It’s not their 354 receiving touchdowns or nearly 40,000 yards combined. It is their flamboyant end zone celebrations. From Ochocinco’s sombrero celebration this year, to Moss pretending to moon the Green Bay fans in a post-season game or Owens using cheerleader’s pom-poms in the end zone, they have the funniest and most over-the-top celebrations.

But where did the end zone celebration begin?

It’s believed that in 1965, Homer Jones, a New York Giants wide out, invented the “spike.” A “spike” is when the ball is thrown at the ground. This started a revolution that is one of the favorite celebrations of the game today.

In 1969, University of Houston’s exuberant wide-receiver Elmo Wright took the end zone celebration to another level. The NCAA banned the “spike” after the 1968 season, and that was Wright’s signature move. Everyone was asking him what he was going to do and he had no idea. In the first game of the year, facing All-American defensive back Steve Tannen from the University of Florida, Wright ran a down-and-out route, and Tannen dove at Wright’s feet, and Wright high-stepped to avoid the tackle.

With no one else around him, he continued high stepping into the end zone. Thus, the end zone dancing celebration was born.

In the 1980’s, the University of Miami Hurricanes brought the end zone celebration to even newer heights.

Miami began recruiting inner city athletes rather than going out of state. The inner city kids brought swagger and attitude to the team, along with extravagant end zone celebrations. From Michael Irvin, to Jerome Brown, to Willis McGahee, this era brought arrogance to the college game that lifted the end zone celebration to heights never before seen.

Another player in the state of Florida who was known for his ludicrous end zone celebrations was Deion Sanders.  A cornerback and kick returner at Florida State, Sanders did not score a lot of touchdowns, but when he did, it was a show. Nicknamed “Prime Time,” Sander’s often high stepped into the end zone followed by exuberant celebration.

As this era of college football stars moved to the NFL, so did their outlandish celebrations. Owens, Moss, Steve Smith and Ochocinco are the poster children of this era, but not the only ones with signature celebrations. The Lambeau Leap is a Green Bay Packer tradition. Plus you have the icky shuffle, the dirty bird, or dunking over the goalpost.

Joe Horn made a call from a cell phone after a touchdown for the New Orleans Saints.

While playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Owens pulled a Sharpie out of his sock and signed a ball after a touchdown. He threw the ball into the crowd.

But as the celebrations evolved, so did the rules against them. The National Football League (NFL), is often called the “No Fun League” because of its harsh rules against end zone celebrations. Prior to the 2004 season, the NFL only had a five-yard penalty for excessive end zone celebrations, but for the 2004 season the rule was changed to a 15-yard penalty.

Ochocinco puts $35,000 in a bank account before every year just for fines due to celebrations.

College football has a similar penalty, but the NFL is stricter on the celebration. In the NFL, you cannot use props, or have a group celebration after scoring a touchdown. Over time, the end zone celebration evolved into one of the favorite parts of the fan’s watching experience.

But rules have forced players to no longer celebrate, and the rule has ruined the fun of scoring a touchdown.