The retirement of Paul Tagliabue will involve a prolonged process of search committees and infighting before his successor is announced. But the end of prolonged and excessive routines required only a quick vote Wednesday after the league said several players representing the NFL Players Association agreed that celebrations have gotten out of hand.
The main change: Stay on your feet. No more push-ups, sit-ups, boat-rowing, snow angels or worm crawls. Not that the rulesmakers want the NFL to again be labeled the No Fun League.
"If you want to dance, get up," said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, co-chairman of the competition committee.
Added co-chairman Rich McKay, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons: "These guys are very creative, and we were laughing while we watched the tapes. But there has to be some lines drawn. A lot of the things we saw that we're not big fans of were acts on the ground."
Such as Carolina's Steve Smith, who sat down and pretended to row a boat after scoring against the Minnesota Vikings during their infamous "Love Boat" scandal.
The rulesmakers also outlawed using the ball as a prop, adding it to the "foreign or extraneous objects that are not part of the uniform."
Originally, that was intended to eliminate the threat of cell phones hidden in goal post padding (Joe Horn) or Sharpie pens hidden in socks (Terrell Owens) or pom-pons borrowed from cheerleaders (Owens). But after Cincinnati's Chad Johnson removed a pylon and putted a football and after Smith pretended to diaper a ball and burp it and after Washington's Clinton Portis performed CPR on a ball, it was decided that this is not what George Halas and the esteemed NFL founders had in mind for their hallowed game.
"The ball can't be a baby, bottle of beer, telephone, gear shift, or oar," said league supervisor of officials Mike Pereira.
He could have added chain saw to his list.
Players will still be able to spike, spin or dunk the ball over the goal post. Chad Johnson can even run to the sideline and propose to a Ben-Gal cheerleader, so long as he doesn't get down on one knee. Neither can he use a football as an engagement ring.
Johnson also can do his "River Dance," unless he goes too long. Then, officials will warn him to stop. If he doesn't, it's a 15-yard penalty.
Undeterred, Johnson told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Of course you cannot stop someone as creative as me. How can this bother someone as creative as me?"
Johnson later warned the NFL that he intends to caucus with Smith and Owens and come up with their own set of rules.
McKay said one player told the committee that he was appalled when his 10-year-old son scored in a peewee game and started doing a worm crawl.
"You really start to question about what the game is all about," Pereira said.
Sticking to the serious business, the league also passed rules to further protect players, especially quarterbacks, who can no longer be the targets of unnecessary or unavoidable low hits. The hit by Pittsburgh's Kimo von Oelhoffen against Cincinnati's Carson Palmer in the playoffs would not be a penalty under the new rule. However, such a play helped instigate the rules change.
"Let's face it. We do protect the quarterback," Pereira said.
Three rules to protect offensive players:
Except for the curtailing of touchdown celebrations, defense again got short shrift in the rules.
"It's hard to get anything passed that favors defense," said Arizona coach Dennis Green.
A proposal to allow one defensive player to use a radio helmet for sideline communication like the quarterback can was defeated, but Fisher said it was mainly because the technology for backup helmets is still in the works.
Instant replay will cover the "down by contact" play that often nullifies recovered fumbles. The competition committee argued successfully that defensive players who instantaneously recover a loose ball, often before the whistle, are out of luck when replay overrules a play that officials have incorrectly called down. Critics worry about players overzealously pursuing after the whistle, but the rule will be tried for a year.
A proposal to allow incidental "flinches" by receivers that resulted in over 100 false starts was defeated. Rulesmakers argued unsuccessfully that nobody got an advantage and the game stoppage is annoying.
A proposal to allow replay to view any kind of play was overwhelmingly defeated. That was a victory for fans, especially if replay could be used to determine whether a player celebrating in the end zone really was on the ground.
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