Celebrating NFL Player Celebrations Rule Change

Relaxed Rules Bring the Fun Back

This offseason, NFL owners voted to relax the touchdown celebration rules that many NFL fans and players felt took some of the fun out of the game. No longer are TD celebrations tightly regulated – in fact, players can now use the football as a prop, celebrate on the ground, or even celebrate with a group of their teammates.

While there will still be some restrictions in place (offensive demonstrations, prolonged celebrations, and celebrations directed at an opponent will continue to fall outside of the rules), fans will certainly enjoy more creative celebrations and fewer flags flying out of the hands of the refs.

As we look forward to next fall, let’s take a look at some recent touchdown celebrations as well as iconic celebrations from the past.

TD Celebrations in Recent Years


Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers athletic quarterback known for his propensity for scoring running touchdowns (he has 48 rushing touchdowns over his first six NFL seasons), has a few touchdown celebrations under his belt. In addition to the Superman celebration of years past, he unveiled a new short dance last season. Though not as popular as his famous “dab” gesture, it still showed the nature of the playful player.


In 2011, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown paid tribute to fellow wide receiver Hines Ward after catching a touchdown during a contest with the Atlanta Falcons. The dance evoked Ward’s performance as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars,” which he won. (Brown, however, did not have the same success on the show).


Odell Beckham Jr. nabbed a touchdown for the New York Giants in late 2016 and followed it up with a quirky – and eerily accurate – “Thriller” tribute as a part of his celebration. He even managed to avoid a flag despite already being flagged for excessive celebration the same season.


The Cowboys‘ rookie phenom Ezekiel Elliott made headlines in 2016 not only for his outstanding play on the field (he captured the season’s rushing title) but also for a unique touchdown celebration in December. After scoring a rushing touchdown, Elliott headed directly to a large Salvation Army bucket that had been placed on the field – and jumped in. His celebration led to a huge spike in Salvation Army donations. Elliott also promised to contribute a donation personally.


Rob Gronkowski is well-known for smashing the ball violently to the ground after a touchdown, but when his New England Patriots played the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium in the U.K., he added a little London flavor to his traditional spike. While he explained later that he was imitating the changing of the guard, it certainly was unique.  


Steelers player William Gay grabbed a pick-six and ran it to the house, where he proceeded to celebrate for a full 60 seconds. He, of course, got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play, but he made sure he got the best use of his time while he could.


J.J. Watt may be a big guy, but that didn’t prevent him from scooping up an Andrew Luck fumble in 2014 and hustling 55 yards for a touchdown. He topped it off with a rousing version of the “Nae Nae” dance, which unfortunately wasn’t enough to ensure a win against their division rivals.


Von Miller busted a move after what he thought was a touchdown as the Broncos romped their way past the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs – and eventually won Super Bowl 50. Unfortunately, for Miller, his “touchdown” was deemed not a touchdown after the dancing ended, but his moves were pretty sharp regardless.  

Classic and Iconic TD Celebrations

Other touchdown celebrations have become so classic and iconic that their fame lives on, and other players sometimes take them up. Here are a few examples.


The “Ickey Shuffle” got its start with  running back Ickey Woods. His NFL playing career, which took place in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was short (all four seasons were with the Bengals), but his iconic dance moves transcended his playing time. After a standout rookie season, Woods’ career was plagued by injury, but he recently revived the Ickey Shuffle in a commercial for Geico.  


The “Lambeau Leap” is a celebration that continues today by a large number of players – in particular, Green Bay Packers players at their home field, Lambeau Field. It got its start in 1993 when safety LeRoy Butler took it to the end zone after teammate Reggie White flipped him the ball after grabbing a fumble. Since that day, many Packers players jump into the stands, where thrilled fans good-naturedly pound them in celebration.


Victor Cruz, who recently signed with the Chicago Bears, spent the first six years of his NFL career with the New York Giants, where he followed up every touchdown with a salsa dance. He notes that it’s in honor of his grandmother – who taught him the dance – and disapproves when other players do the same.


Billy “White Shoes” Johnson is credited for being one of the first – if not the first – to celebrate a touchdown with an end zone dance. He was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1974 and made a name for himself returning kickoffs and punts, and is still remembered today for his knee-knocking celebration dance.


Before group celebrations were ruled a no-go, the Washington Redskins enjoyed choreographing elaborate group high-fives by players known as the “Fun Bunch.” The celebrations consisted of wide receivers and tight ends and were loved by fans but not by rivals.


Former Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson is not only revered for his play with the franchise, but also for the end zone celebration dance dubbed the “Dirty Bird” he started in the late ’90s. He took a disparaging name that fans of an opposing team hurled at him after a game and turned it into a dance known around the league today.  


The league forbids props, but Joe Horn, a New Orleans Saints wideout, stashed a cellphone in the goal post padding, from which a teammate grabbed it and handed it to Horn, who punched in numbers and held it to his helmet. He was flagged on the play and fined by the NFL for the stunt – to the tune of $30,000. This celebration wasn’t one that’s been repeated, as the NFL has no patience for such, ahem, cell-ebrations and will come down hard and fast on any player who tries something similar.


Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. – who played for the Panthers for 13 years and the Ravens for three before retiring – was well-known for his elaborate end zone celebrations. In 2005, he “rowed a boat” after a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings – a move that was inspired by the Vikings’ “Love Boat” scandal a few weeks beforehand.

Celebrate Away This Fall

As we get further into summer and training camps start firing away around the nation, we have a lot in which to look forward. Which teams will cruise through the season for a playoff appearance? Who will lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy next February? And what kind of amazing touchdown end zone celebrations will we get to enjoy?

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