End-zone kid stuff still blight on NFL

September 10, 2000|By JOHN STEADMAN

Halfway across the end zone, Qadry Ismail made a U-turn, underhanded the football to the official and returned to the sideline to receive the plaudits of teammates. Touchdown, Ravens.

There was no celebration or outward display of emotion. Ismail didn't spike the ball, nor did he enter into one of those convoluted dance routines. He was acting the part of a mature, competent professional football player - not some clown off a street corner interested in self-aggrandizement.

Ismail's conduct exemplified the way it used to be. He serves as a model to emulate in the present era of downright trite exhibitionism. Oh, if the NFL could only return to the days when players acted the part of what a true professional is supposed to represent instead of a collection of bush-league hambones posing to bring attention to themselves.

On a slightly optimistic note, there seemed to be less gyrating and cheap grandstanding in the Ravens' opening game with the Steelers. This offers some promise of hope that the practice of players calling attention to themselves might be diminishing. Brian Billick, the Ravens' coach, said he wasn't aware of any change in the after-play activity, but it would be a welcome development if it happened.

A year ago, Art Donovan, the first Baltimore Colt to enter the Hall of Fame, and John Unitas, another Hall of Famer, spoke out about players demonstrating. They were appalled and disgusted, but, at the same time, not surprised because of the lack of discipline that has eroded the game.

Maxie Baughan, a nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker and much respected assistant coach, offered the stern warning that if the league, along with the coaches, didn't take control, that the sport was going to start resembling professional wrestling.

Oddly enough, since he made the comment, the World Wrestling Federation has formed its own football league, the XFL, which will borrow from wrestling, with slapstick comedy, burlesque routines and gosh knows what else.

George Young, vice president of football operations for the NFL, said the league is doing "the best it can to get away from the extraneous actions of players" - taking bows after what they're paid handsomely to do and playing to the crowd. He said the coaches talked about the problem in discussions at the league meeting last March.

Young claims the post-play showboating didn't start in the NFL or with Mark Gastineau, the New York Jets defensive end who would tackle a ball carrier and then dance around the downed player in what resembled an Indian war dance. Young said he was coaching and teaching at Baltimore City College in 1961 when he first encountered players trying to do things on the field to draw attention from the crowd and their contemporaries. "All this carrying-on started at the high school level," he said.

"The pros later got the same idea. I told my teams back then, `We aren't going to do any of that,' so it never became a problem for us. The coaches in the NFL can put an end to all this, and I only hope it happens because the game is football." Young hates to see some modern players, earning millions in salary, detracting from a sport that is fighting to hold on to a semblance of dignity.

Pro football didn't reach its current level of public acceptance by allowing players to damage the product with their infantile actions. No other professional sport allows it to happen. Hopefully, it's a fad that will wear out in time.

Some agents have supposedly told players, especially interior linemen, that they should display their personalities with the dancing, exaggerated duck-walking and other "Harry High School" antics. They think it might enhance their popularity and lead to commercial endorsements. Imagine actually believing that.

It would take a large case of stupidity to accept such reasoning. Why would a sponsor want to align itself with a player who is selfish enough to promote himself in what has always been a team game? The league should take pictures of the players engaging in the extracurricular displays and let them see how foolish they look. They are an embarrassment to themselves and maybe even their families.

Acting the part of jerks in front of 70,000 fans on a Sunday afternoon isn't going to nominate them to the Hall of Fame. Some players have even tried to include in their acts some kind of team-participation, as demonstrated last year when the Ravens put their heads together in a huddle and then, on a count, as a group fell backward. Now that took talent.

The league quickly ended such an attempt at low-grade comedy. At times, it appears the players are shaking so much they are either on something or have St. Vitus' dance. This is show biz? Forget it. Give 'em the hook.

Players going into the stands after a touchdown, known in Green Bay as the "Lambeau Leap," are involved in a dangerous practice. If a spectator is hurt, it will lead to a serious court case, and the league has been told this could happen. Still, the Packers have allowed it to continue.

When you see your favorite NFL player, don't ask if you can have the next dance. Tell him to block, tackle, run, kick, pass and catch, and do it the way football intended - in a routine manner, without trying to make himself look good by attempting to upstage the true essence of the game.

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