The story behind Demetrius Hartsfield’s pilfered sack dance

October 9, 2012

Demetrius Hartsfield celebrated Maryland’s win over Wake Forest, and his appropriation of A.J. Francis’s sack dance, on Saturday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

There was a theft Saturday in College Park during the Maryland football team’s 19-14 win over Wake Forest, a crime eerily reminiscent of the locomotive robberies ubiquitous in old-timey Western films. Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield was the bandana-wearing bandit, horse-riding and pistol-wielding his way across the Byrd Stadium turf.

The prize?

Hartsfield stole A.J. Francis’s signature sack dance. To be specific, he hijacked the “Pain Train.”

“Oh my God. First of all, I invented the Pain Train,” Francis said Tuesday. “I’m the conductor of the Pain Train. The conductor is blowing the horn of the train. I am the conductor, and have added a few cabooses to the pain train so far this year.”

Cabooses get chained to the train’s rear after a sack or a tackle for a loss, of which Francis has four this season. But his classmate and fellow member of the Maryland front seven stormed into the conductor’s cabin.

Hartsfield began planning the move in the second quarter when, after the Terps stuffed Demon Deacons running back Josh Harris on fourth and goal from the Maryland 1-yard line, he high-stepped to the bench, like Deion Sanders. It’s a celebration Hartsfield has performed since high school. The emotion of big plays carried him away, so he began high-stepping. Sometimes forward, sometimes backward. “My teammates say I’m all over the place,” Hartsfield said. “It’s what I’ve always done. Just let it all out.”

On the Terps’ sideline, Hartsfield says Francis came up to him and predicted a larceny. “He came and said, ‘Meat, I’m going to steal your celebration,’ ” Hartsfield recalled. “I was like: ‘Oh that’s crazy. It’s cool, I’ll just steal yours.’ ”

Here’s where the stories diverge. Francis remembers it differently. “I was just making fun of how Meat runs off the field,” Francis said. “He decided it would be hilarious to steal mine after that.”

Hartsfield’s moment came in the fourth quarter, when he stuffed quarterback Tanner Price on a fourth-down blitz, securing Maryland’s first ACC victory in more than a year. The linebacker began high-stepping jubilantly, a leg-only celebration like he always does, then in a flash remembered his promise. Mid-stride, Hartsfield boarded the Pain Train. He pumped his first, jabbing his elbow toward the ground like “when truck drivers pull on the little horn.” The image landed Hartsfield on Monday’s front page of The Diamondback, Maryland’s student newspaper, above a headline that read “Holding Them Off.”

“I’ve done that move for four games, and I was never on the front page,” Francis said. “He can’t even be original. The best sack dance he has all year, he steals from me. I thought about it. Probably shouldn’t have minced my words, been more direct, and he wouldn’t have stole mine.”

Hartsfield is already plotting his next move while bracing for Francis’s inevitable retribution. “We’ll be even then,” Hartsfield said. “I might try to steal somebody else’s sack dance next.”

Darin Drakeford, a half-sack behind Hartsfield for the team lead with 2.5 this season, hasn’t trotted out his signature move in 2012, but might be an easy target. “Drake’s is funny,” Hartsfield said. “Last year, he would clap his hands and bring a high-knee all the way to his chin. I thought it was pretty good.”

When asked about the Maryland’s best celebration artist, Hartsfield turned away from the Pain Train. When Darius Kilgo recorded a sack in the season opener against William & Mary, his helmet came off in the process. “He just trotted off the field, looked like a beast,” Hartsfield said. “I think his had the most swag. It wasn’t flashy. He just jogged off the field, low like a bear.”

Francis said his knees aren’t mobile enough to attempt the Hartsfield High-Step, and conceded that Hartsfield is “one of the guys I’d let get away with that.” Still, the boisterous defensive lineman isn’t ready to relinquish his conductor hat just yet, and had strong words for the engineer of Saturday’s hubristic heist.

“He’s not even the conductor,” Francis said. “If anything, he’s one of those guys who shovels coal into the engine.”

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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