With the end zone as their proscenium, NFL athletes become Hamlet lifting Yorick’s skull, or Cirque du Soleil, lifting one another.
All the gridiron is a stage but the goal line is for curtain calls, the place to put a bow on a touchdown, then bow for all the world to see. For a few moments, the player is the thing.
Monday night in Chicago, Kyle Rudolph and the Vikings offensive line executed one of the cleverest end-zone celebrations in league history.
Rudolph called it “Duck, Duck, Goose,” infuriating Minnesotans who know it as “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.” Rudolph knows better than to take on this fight, although he could point out that Minnesotans also like to carry “pop” in their grocery “bigs.”
The world is a dark place these days and sport has become part of the solar eclipse, so let’s not hear any complaining about grown men performing childlike acts. Sport at its best is childlike — equal parts passion, silliness and faux importance.
The Never Fun League tried to keep Ickey Woods from shuffling in the end zone in the ’80s, but player celebrations finally wormed — and Dougied, and Shuffled — their way into the gameday experience.
We need more Fun Bunches and back flips; flip phones and Dirty Birds; Mile High Salutes and Lambeau Leaps; Bobs and Weaves; River Dances and Pylon Putting; End Zone Salsas and Funky Chickens; Sharpies, high-fives, low-fives and flying body bumps.
Chances are, you’ll be reminded Sunday when the Packers visit the Vikings, that these franchises have been perpetrators and victims of some of the best celebrations in league history.
The Lambeau Leap is the industry standard in end-zone jubilation, an attempt to share the moment with and spill the beer of paying customers. Randy Moss stole the move as surely as he’d pluck a high pass from a safety, leaping into the first row at the Metrodome. When Moss was inducted into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor, he talked more about the fan who caught him than the players who threw him the ball.
Moss conducted one of the most infamous end zone displays ever, and should be thanked for not displaying more. When the Vikings beat the Packers in Lambeau in the playoffs, Moss celebrated a touchdown by running to the goalpost and miming pulling down his pants. He was reacting to the moon shots the Vikings buses encounter on the way into the stadium. Not knowing this, announcer Joe Buck clutched pearls and tottered to his fainting couch, when Moss, always as shrewd as he was rude, was merely getting revenge.
Steve Smith offered perhaps the most epic diss in end zone history. In 2005, a few weeks after the Vikings had been embarrassed by their so-called “Love Boat” scandal, Smith scored a touchdown against them, sat down and mimicked rowing a boat. P.J. Fleck should hire him as an events coordinator.
Smith isn’t the only NFL player to act the troll. Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, after catching a touchdown against the Giants, pretended to shoot himself in the leg like New York receiver Plaxico Burress. Celebrations in baseball have proved literally dangerous, with Kendrys Morales short-circuiting a promising career by breaking his leg leaping into a mob of teammates at home plate.
Typically, the Lynx celebrate with class, dancing on court with kids after they win a home game, and, typically, the Timberwolves had their only playoff run ruined by a less-tasteful move.
When Sam Cassell bowlegged his way downcourt lugging his personal baggage, he injured himself, perhaps costing the Wolves a chance to beat the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Among major sports, football and soccer offer the best stages for celebrations — wide swaths of soft grass or turf, and time to act the king, or the fool.
If the Packers-Vikings rivalry was defined by celebrations, the Vikings would open with Moss’ moon, and the Packers would counter with Aaron Rodgers cinching his championship belt.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org