Over the years, almost all football coaches from Papa Bear to just plain Bear have offered one piece of particularly useful advice to their players. Should they be fortunate enough to find themselves in the end zone, the players were advised, “Act like you’ve been there before.”
In other words, hand the ball to the official, turn and be on your way. Lose the rest of the routine. All the gestures and gyrations, all the taunts and teasing don’t put any extra points on the scoreboard.
The glut of bowl games - most of them nothing more than community fundraisers and paydays for also-ran teams - had an excess of end-zone mugging. Halas and Bryant would not have been amused. And it will not let up, now that college basketball is on center stage.
Every time a touchdown or basket is scored, it seems to be an excuse to show up the other guy. Spiking the ball and pointing fingers have become requisite rituals used to embarrass the beaten defender. Where once a dunk was the ultimate exclamation point on the court, it now seems necessary to hang on the rim to add a little emphasis.
Call it Posturing 101, sort of like what the Dean’s List students do when they earn an A and start strutting around the chemistry lab.
Jim Brown never found it necessary to spike the ball. Neither did Gale Sayers. They’re in the Hall of Fame.
When Julius Erving dunked, he didn’t need to dangle overhead afterward. Neither did Wilt Chamberlain. They’re in the Hall of Fame, too.
Steve Hamilton, the athletic director at Morehead State University and a former NBA player and major-league pitcher, is distressed at the trend toward showing up the other guy.
“It’s sad that style has become more important than substance,” Hamilton said. “It makes me angry to see it. It’s terribly bad. We didn’t do it when I played.
“If you’re good, that should be good enough. I watched the bowl games. I saw kids talking to the coaches on the other team. I saw two kids standing in the end zone over a receiver who dropped a pass, talking at him. That’s not right. That’s not very classy.
“We’ve become actors and exhibitionists. If I had a player who did that kind of stuff, he’d be on the bench.”
When he played for the New York Yankees and Minneapolis Lakers, Hamilton’s teammates included players like Mickey Mantle and Elgin Baylor. They went about their business without finding it necessary to preen over it.
“Today, it’s become do anything you want if you have great ability,” Hamilton said. “That’s just not right. We teach bad values.”
Not in the Ohio Valley Conference, where Morehead State plays. The OVC barred the trash talking and taunting this year with a sportsmanship statement of policy. It worked well during football and will be applied for basketball.
“I think we had four unsportsmanlike penalties all year,” Hamilton said. “We got rid of it. It can be done.”
Rudy Washington, who coaches basketball at Drake University, thinks trash talk isn’t so terrible.
“Every industry has its own lingo,” Washington told the Dallas Morning News. “The computer business has its own lingo. Banking has its own lingo. Trash talk is the language of athletics; it’s the language of the game.”
Somehow, though, it’s hard to imagine Sen. Bill Bradley, or Judge Alan Page, two more Hall of Famers, talking trash when they were playing their games.
Occasionally, all the extra carrying-on can cost points.
Miami’s student-athletes, all specialists in communications, drew an excessive celebration penalty after scoring a touchdown in the Orange Bowl against Nebraska. The ensuing loss of yardage on the kickoff, followed by another penalty, led to a safety for the Cornhuskers.
That did not exactly reform the Hurricanes, who kept right on talking and gesturing on just about every play, all of it religiously recorded by TV. Cameras love hot dogs. The more mugging, the better. “Hi Mom! Watch me on SportsCenter!”
Now, certainly some exuberance is understandable. Hug a teammate. Highfive him. All that is perfectly appropriate. But the current run of celebrations seems far out of proportion, designed not merely to acknowledge accomplishment but to shove it under the nose of the victim.
This is not sportsmanship. This isn’t even showmanship. This is just old fashioned bad manners.