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Next Cell Phone Incident Will Warrant a Call

Competition Committee Says Planned Celebrations Should Result in 15-Yard Penalty

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H04

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.

_____ NFL '04 _____
With what may be the most talented group of receivers the NFL has ever seen, look for the game to be more wide open than ever this season.
Officials will put teeth in a rule prohibiting a defender from impeding a receiver more than five yards downfield.
How the rule is to be interpreted.
Darrell Green knows a thing or two about receivers and shares his all-time top five.
Receivers should get a big boost from the rule modification.
Don't call it the T.O. rule or the Joe Horn rule, but expect a crackdown on TD celebrations.
A WR's tools of the trade
Top 5 end zone celebrations
The NFL's top 10 storylines of '04
News Graphic: The evolution of the modern day wide receiver (PDF)

_____The Redskins_____
Joe Gibbs returns to the sideline knowing a modification of the ruled will have a major impact on his approach to the passing game.
Gregg Williams oversees a defense that has been revamped since finishing 25th among the league's 32 teams last season.
The Eagles appear to be the class of the NFC East, which may be on the way back after having fallen on lean times the past eight years.
Offensive depth chart
Defensive depth chart

_____The Ravens_____
While not flashy, wide receiver Kevin Johnson could be the key to opening up Baltimore's offense.

_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

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."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company