By Jim Wyatt | The Tennessean
Nate Washington has danced and he's dunked. He's flipped the football, thrown it, and jumped into the arms of fans in an impromptu LP Field leap.
Yet there have also been times when he's crossed the goal line and handed the ball to an official as if the touchdown was no big deal.
"For me, it's really just a spur-of-the-moment thing," the Titans wide receiver said. "Sometimes you work so hard on that play to get in the end zone, you just want to clown around a little bit. You feel like celebrating. But there is a fine line there. And you don't want to go overboard."
Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson crossed that line last Sunday. After a touchdown against the Jets, he used his hands as pistols and mimicked shooting himself in the thigh. It was a jab at Jets wideout Plaxico Burress, who served 20 months in prison on gun charges after shooting himself at a New York nightclub in 2008.
Creative touchdown celebrations -- both solo and ensemble acts -- have been taking place in NFL stadiums for decades, despite the league's efforts to tone them down. Most players say they know when to bring the curtain down on such performances, but admit they like the entertainment value. Critics complain that the show-boaters are just starving for extra attention.
The NFL was not amused with Johnson's gunshot routine, and slapped him with a $10,000 fine. Last season he racked up $15,000 in fines for other exaggerated celebrations.
While Johnson had center stage again this week, he's not the only player to have pushed the limits with end zone spectacles.
"It is tough to score a touchdown in the National Football League, so when you score, you want to party, you want to have fun with it," Titans wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. "Back when T.O. (Terrell Owens) and Chad Johnson (now Chad Ochocinco) were doing all their stuff, I loved it. I watched just to see what they were going to do next.
"But you don't see as much of that any more, and when you do guys get in trouble. It's a shame really."
Keep it short and clean
According to the NFL rulebook, individual players are prohibited from prolonged or excessive celebrations that continue after a warning from an official.
Celebration also must refrain from taunting, abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures. Players can't celebrate while on the ground, and two or more players are not allowed to partake in "prolonged, excessive, premeditated or choreographed" celebrations either.
Using props is also a no-no, something Titans running back Chris Johnson found out in 2008 when he banged on some drums behind the end zone in Kansas City. That cost him $10,000.
Former Steelers fullback Merrill Hoge, an analyst for ESPN, despises choreographed celebrations. The Bills, Hoge said, should have sent Stevie Johnson a message by cutting him immediately.
"I've always believed when you are a professional player you should act like a professional, in all areas," Hoge said. "When you calculate (expletive) like I've been seeing, that irritates the living hell out of me. Because that is the clearest example of an individual as I've ever seen it.
"When you are more focused with trying to bring attention to yourself, and being on SportsCenter, then that's selfish, and there's no place for it in the game. It makes me sick when I see some of this stuff going on."
Last season against New England, Stevie Johnson fell to the ground after pretending to shoot off a rifle, mimicking what the Gillette Stadium "Minutemen" do when the Patriots score.
Against the Jets last week, Johnson also imitated an airplane in flight before crashing to the turf, prompting a 15-yard penalty. He later apologized, said his celebration was unrehearsed, and promised to tone it down beginning with Sunday's game against the Titans.
"If I benched everybody for every dumb mistake that was made, there wouldn't be any coaches or players out there because we've all made dumb mistakes," Bills Coach Chan Gailey said this week. "Everybody gets happy about scoring. I don't want him to not like it. But at the same time, you've got to be under control."
The Titan way
Going into this season, Titans Coach Mike Munchak showed his players a video from the NFL about the do's and don'ts of celebrations. So far, he hasn't had to call any players on the carpet.
"I've talked about that: 'Let's not do that. You scored the touchdown. You got enough attention. You are not the special guy because you are the one that scored that play,' " Munchak said. "So I think we made the point very clear we don't do that, we are not going to do that."
When Titans wide receiver Damian Williams scored the game-winning touchdown against the Buccaneers last Sunday, he kept his hoopla clean. He went with his usual routine, pretending to "feed himself" with an imaginary spoon, something he debuted while playing in the Rose Bowl for USC.
"I am just out there trying to eat, that's it,'' he said with a smile.
Williams has also made a habit of taking a knee and giving thanks to God. Tight end Jared Cook does the same thing when he scores.
"Everybody always asks me why I don't do more,'' Cook said. "I just don't see the point in taking the attention away from the team and putting it on me."
Washington's most memorable celebration this season was a dunk over the goalpost. Tight end Daniel Graham threw the ball into the stands after a touchdown against the Broncos, and several Titans have jumped into the stands, including rookie Tommie Campbell after his kickoff return last Sunday.
"I'm OK with guys having fun,'' said former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, an analyst for NFL Network. "I do think there is a place for end-zone celebrations -- there is something to be said for the spontaneous joy of making a great play and letting the fans celebrate with you. I am old school in a lot of ways, but the game is about having fun."
Hawkins likes a good end zone party, but he also knows there's a time and a place. That's why the fourth-year pro showed restraint after his first NFL touchdown earlier this season.
"A lot of people expected me to go crazy, so I didn't do anything," Hawkins said. "But to be honest, I don't score enough to do crazy stuff. Now if I go on a touchdown streak, then you might see something.
"I want guys to have fun, because this is a game we play. But if you are one of those guys who scores once every 10 games, that is kind of sorry, so score the touchdown and just give the ball to the ref."