I want to use today to clean up some items from my clipboard. Before I get to that, however, I want to note that the World Series must produce a champion for a fanbase that has waited a LONG time between championships. If your favorite team is not participating, check the Series out anyway. It will be good to see the reactions of the winning fans – and given the way both teams have been playing, it ought to be a really good bunch of baseball games.
A couple of weeks ago, I posed the question as to when NFL on-field celebrations started on the road to “jackassery”. I suggested Billy “White Shoes” Johnson and Harold Carmichael as early proponents of such behavior. I got an e-mail from the reader in Houston who is a sports historian/stat guru extraordinaire. Here is what he provided:
Wide receiver, Homer Jones, of the Giants was the first player to ever spike the ball (1965). That was in a game vs. Philly at Yankee Stadium and can be considered the first end-zone “celebration”. Following the 1964 season, the NFL had imposed a $500 fine (today, it’s $5,787 for the first offense), if a player threw the football into the stands after scoring a touchdown. So when Jones caught his first TD, a long TD pass from Earl Morrall, he was ready to throw the ball into the stands, but because of the $500 fine (Jones was making $10,000 at the time), he thought twice about it and instead threw the ball down into the end zone. It was a short, almost back-handed throwdown – not the mega-spike we’re used to seeing. He called it “The Spike” when asked about it by a reporter and the name was born. He continued “spiking” the ball over his career on each of his ensuing 35 TD catches and one rushing TD. Other players started to copy it.
As far as dancing in the end zone is concerned, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson is given most of the credit for that. Johnson was already known for his flamboyance, as he got his nickname by dyeing his football spikes while in high school and college.
But it was actually my fellow Houstonian, KC wide receiver Elmo Wright, who began the practice of “high-stepping” into the end zone at the end of long touchdown receptions. He did it at the University of Houston and then in his rookie year, he first did it in a game vs. the Redskins. While this was no comparison to the antics later displayed by such famed celebrators as Johnson, Ickey Woods, Jamal Anderson, Terrell Owens, etc., it was sort of shocking at the time and was made famous by NFL Films highlights. After seeing Wright do his thing in the end zone, Johnson got the idea for his “Funky Chicken” dance and did so for the first time in a game as a rookie vs. the Steelers in 1974. The rest is history.
So, now we all know…
There is another NFL-related item on my clipboard. Yesterday, the Giants and Rams played the second of three regular season games in London. The venue was Twickenham – which is a rugby pitch and not a soccer pitch; the stadium seats 82,000 and it looked awfully full to me. The game started at 9:30 AM Eastern Time – that would be 6:30 in Las Vegas. You just know that had to have a chilling effect on the number of people watching that game. Nevertheless, the NFL is persistent in playing games there and it has an agreement to play a game in the new stadium being built for the Tottenham Hotspurs in London starting in 2018. I know more than a couple of NFL fans who believe that these “London Games” have gone past their “sell-by date” but the NFL obviously disagrees. I think there are two reasons why:
1. The NFL revenues in 2016 are projected to be in the neighborhood of $15B and the long-term goal for the league is revenue of $25B in 2025. I am not sure the NFL can squeeze another $10B per year out of the US market alone so “international revenue” is an important component of achieving that goal. As I said, that large stadium looked full to me. I read one report that said more than 30,000 fans in Britain bought tickets to all three of this year’s “London Games”; that has to be more than encouraging for the finance folks at the NFL. Reinforcing the league’s focus on the potential for foreign revenues, there will be a game in Mexico City later this year. When they put tickets there on sale, reports said that the stadium sold out in less than an hour.
2. The players cannot hate this. If they did, they would have started to leak stories about how awful it is to go there to play so that it might become a bargaining chip in the next CBA negotiations. Fans can imagine that players/coaches do not like their routines to be jostled or that traveling across the pond produces too many dreaded “distractions”; but if these were burning issues, I would expect to have heard things by now related to how to cut down the number of these trips. I have not heard/read any such thing…
Oh, by the way, another reason the players and the NFLPA ought to like “London Games” is that if they succeed in goosing revenue up, that means there is more money to share with the players because that means the salary cap goes up too …
One more NFL-related note… The saga of spousal abuse by NFL players came back to center stage recently in the Josh Brown Matter. Obviously, the NFL did not learn much from the bungling that it exhibited in the Ray Rice Affair. In the aftermath of that debacle, the NFL instituted a policy that set 6 games as the benchmark suspension for spousal abuse/assault and battery/etc. To my knowledge, they have yet to impose a 6-game ban in any case because they always seem to find “mitigating circumstances’. Brown was suspended for one game earlier this year; more evidence came to light recently that indicates his abusive behavior was worse than understood at that time; now he is suspended with pay until the league figures out how to remove their collective heads from their collective asses.
[Aside: Replace the recently released police reports in this case with the “discovery” of the elevator video in the Ray Rice Affair and you will see a strikingly parallel set of events here.]
However, the telling thing to me about this matter is what it says about Greg Hardy. Reports now say he will move on to participate in MMA because he has had no offers from NFL teams. If those reports are true, how toxic must he be to the 32 folks who own NFL franchises? Hardy is a pass-rusher and a good one; he may not be the best one in the league, but on physical talent alone, he could probably start for at least half the clubs in the NFL. Pass-rushers are valued commodities. Nevertheless, no team wants him on the roster let alone on the field… I have two comments about that situation:
1. There is probably more information related to the various allegations levelled against Greg Hardy than has been made public but at least some of that is known to the NFL and the owners.
2. The fact that no team has made him an offer of employment – in the form of a tryout – smells like “collusion” to me. Yet, the NFLPA has been silent on that matter. I wonder if the NFLPA folks also have some insights that the public does not have …
Finally, since I discussed the “exporting” of American Football to London above, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald regarding a niche sport in Europe:
“And finally: There is an actual sport in Europe called shin kicking. If this is your country’s national pastime, I’m thinking your country has some issues.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………