It's a "me-first" league right now and for Ickey Woods, the over-the-top touchdown celebrations are a far cry from his spontaneous and joyful dances in the end zone.
The former Cincinnati Bengals running back developed the "Ickey Shuffle," arguably the most famous touchdown celebration in NFL history. Woods became not only a fan favorite in Cincinnati during his career that lasted from 1988 to 1991, but he also was an icon for years to come across the league with his shuffle. His dance continues to stand the test of time and is the standard by which all other celebrations will be judged.
So when Woods sees something like what Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson did on Sunday against the New York Jets, he doesn't see it as in the same spirit as his celebrations two decades ago. After scoring a second-quarter touchdown to give the Bills a 14-7 lead, Johnson danced in the end zone then mocked shooting himself in the thigh, a move clearly targeting the arrest of Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Three years ago at a New York City nightclub, Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg, was hospitalized and served two years in prison for the incident.
As if that wasn't enough, Johnson then flew around like a jet and mimicked a crash landing, drawing a penalty. The 15-yard call helped give the Jets good field position and they tied the game up four plays later, ironically via a Burress touchdown.
"I actually really didn't know what he was doing at first but then seeing it on 'SportsCenter' and them explaining it, I understood it," Woods told Yahoo! Sports. "A lot of the celebration now is self-motivated — it's about me - it's not to get the fans involved, it's unfortunate."
Woods said that when he developed his shuffle, there was no flack from his then head coach Sam Wyche as he realized that Woods was doing it out of joy and only after a touchdown. He never practiced it — "no need to since I created it" — and he only remembers being penalized for it once when he did it in the back of the end zone rather than along the sidelines. There was never anything malicious about his dance nor did it in any way target a player on the opposing sideline.
"Guys are doing a lot of self-promotion now with the celebration dance. When I did it, it was for the fans, I never did it away from home," Woods said. "A lot of the stuff now is motivated and that's what the league has come to. A lot of the guys from my era played for the love of the game. Now it's a 'me era,' it's a money thing now."
After the game, Johnson acknowledged that "most definitely it hurt our team" as his penalty in large part helped set the Jets up with the equalizing touchdown in such short order and on Monday, he called to apologize to Burress. While in his postgame remarks Burress basically brushed aside the targeted jab from Johnson, on Monday afternoon, Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said he doesn't understand why the celebration played out like it did. Revis was on coverage of Johnson for that play and says that he should have been the target of the celebration, not his teammate.
"I felt it had nothing to do with the situation," Revis said. "If anything he scored on me so come at me if anything. That's just wrong to me, it wasn't smart on his part, doing the gun thing and shooting himself. To me, that was disrespectful to Plaxico in a way."
Kristian R. Dyer contributes to the Shutdown Corner Blog and can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer