Who would have thought that Terrell Owens would be out-celebrated on his first touchdown with the Philadelphia Eagles?
When the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver hauled in a pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb and raced to the end zone for an 81-yard touchdown on the Eagles' first offensive play of their first home preseason game, his reaction was relatively subdued even though he had victimized the team with which he'd feuded in the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens. McNabb, meantime, raised his arms skyward, then traced the letters "T.O.'' in the air with his index finger.
Fortunately for Owens, it was only the preseason, and he can redeem himself after his first regular season touchdown for his new club. But he'd better watch out. The NFL and the officials on the field will be watching closely.
One of the offseason directives by the competition committee is that officials should assess a 15-yard penalty for any on-field celebrations that involve "foreign objects" or are "prolonged, excessive, premeditated and choreographed celebrations by two or more players." The committee essentially was putting into the rule book what Commissioner Paul Tagliabue already had ordered in a directive.
The league didn't call it the "T.O. Rule" or the "Joe Horn Rule," but it could have. Owens started the trend in 2002 by pulling a marker from his sock to autograph the ball after a game-winning touchdown for the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football." Horn, a New Orleans Saints wide receiver, celebrated a touchdown during a Sunday night game last December by pulling out a cell phone that he'd hidden under the padding around a goal post to call his family from the field. Earlier that day, Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Johnson followed a touchdown by holding up a sign that had been stashed behind a snow pile and read: "Dear NFL: Please don't fine me again."
Horn's display drew a 15-yard penalty but the NFL's leaders nevertheless wanted to make it oh-so-clear that officials should punish such acts immediately rather than waiting for the league office to fine offenders, hoping that pressure from coaches and teammates will be a greater deterrent to millionaire players than a few thousand dollars.
"Don't call us the 'No Fun League,' " Atlanta Falcons General Manager Rich McKay, the co-chairman of the competition committee, said in the offseason when the rule was announced. "This has nothing to do with the 'Lambeau Leap,' the spike, the sack dance or throwing the ball over the goal post. But the demonstrations are becoming more sophisticated and more pre-planned than they've ever been. That's why we focused on a penalty instead of just a fine."
Owens said in training camp, however, that his creative touchdown celebrations might not be finished. "I don't know," he said. "We'll see."
He called the NFL hypocritical for marketing the teamwork necessary to succeed in the sport but making rules against him celebrating his on-the-field success with his teammates. He seems unbothered by the number of controversies that he has generated.
"I think I have the number one selling jersey, so that says a lot," Owens said in camp. "Everybody was kind of waiting for me to get on the East Coast. I know a few years ago when I was in San Fran, I was really trying to make my mark and Jerry [Rice] was there, I just prided myself on going out to make plays because I felt like no one on the East Coast really knew my name. Everybody knew Jerry was on the team [and] I really had to do something to make my mark. . . . Criticism and all that stuff, it comes with the game."