There seems to be an inordinate amount of celebratory displays by athletes in modern day sports competitions. It may have started with participation trophies and no score youth leagues, but it appears we celebrate everything now days, even failure.
I am old enough to remember when the high five was considered new and exciting. Everybody was doing it, all the time, and often for no good reason. Your doctor, your pastor, maybe even the bagger at your grocery store would throw a hand up and proclaim "High five!" You would play along undoubtedly because you didn't want to appear rude, but often wonder what was the reasoning behind the action.
Then the innocent greetings started to get much more elaborate. The fist bump, the hand shake turned slap that evolved into the two individuals involved resembling a couple of girls playing hop scotch on the playground, the forearm bash, and now the flying shoulder bump that ends up a comical rump bump if you over rotate. Quite the celebratory evolution indeed from the now rather mundane high five.
This is not a bad development. We need more unadulterated joy in life, and sports has the ability to offer just that. An temporary escape from real life concerns while we immerse ourselves in the outcome of a athletic competition. But have we went too far with these celebrations when we celebrate a routine play, or even worse, failure?
Let me offer a couple of examples for clarification. I was watching my favorite college basketball team play the other day when one of the players was fouled in the act of shooting and stepped up to the free throw line. He completely air balled the first free throw. Didn't even touch the net. I was embarrassed for the young man. So what did he do? He had to touch hands with the other four teammates on the floor, before going back to the line to miss the second free throw also.
My problem is not with the display of solidarity, which I presume is the reason for the hand slaps, but when did we start celebrating failure and mediocrity? It was always my impression that all the hand gestures were meant to acknowledge a successful endeavor.
The NFL is knee deep in all the celebratory fun, and I have no problem with it unless it affects the rhythm of the game, or facilitates a selfish me-first agenda. Seemingly every play in a NFL game today requires some sort of celebratory reaction, whether by the offense or the defense. Just doing your job in front of millions of spectators is no longer good enough. Now every first down achieved requires the player to leap to their feet and extend their arm before dropping the ball to the ground to signify the achieved goal. Every solid tackle or pass defense results in a scream toward the heavens, a Hulk Hogan like flex, or some other look at me reaction. Sometimes it all seems actually childish when they turn around and pout after a negative play or throw a temper tantrum on the sidelines. You never want to be called a good loser, but instead be a individual renown for class and character. Google players like Heath Miller, Barry Sanders, and Larry Fitzgerald for examples.
All these celebrations got me thinking about the New England Patriots. They actually appeared rather awkward the other night after their AFC Championship victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. They definitely didn't seem to be in their comfort zone to say the least. You would think by now after all the winning and trips to the Super Bowl they would have this celebration thing down pat, but they were meandering around like they didn't know what to do. Kinda like Jim Valvano after NC State won the title. Somebody hug somebody for Pete's sake. Brady was so discombobulated he accidentally dropped the F-bomb on live television.
I believe the reason the Patriots celebrations feel so disjointed is because they seldom do them on the field. The Patriots are not a team of superstars who crave personal accolades. They are excellence in execution, focused on a singular purpose, and any job security is based on personal sacrifice and performance. You fumble too much, Belichick will cut you. Get out of line with the shared agenda, he will trade you. Each player is expected to do their job, failure is not an option.
Admittedly, the Patriots seem like a joyless, robotic group at times, but you can't argue with the results. They are all business, and in no way am I referring to a family business. I was actually struggling awhile back trying to decide which former players Patriots fans would consider beloved. That is not the Patriots Way.
So in the end, although the Patriots suck at on the field celebrations, they don't really seem to care. Winning is all they care about. All I want is for the Patriots to lose the Super Bowl this Sunday. Maybe if they do Steelers Nation can pretend to do a group air high five to celebrate. Wouldn't that be cool?