It was a great game. The Saints scored 35 first-half points, with Drew Brees throwing for three scores. Jared Goff led the Rams all the way back from a 21-point deficit to tie things up in the fourth. Then, late in the fourth quarter, the Saints had the ball in their own territory leading by just three. It was third down.
New Orleans iced the game. Brees hit Michael Thomas down the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown. Thomas then did something that made this fantastic game even more memorable: He reached under the pads that surround the goalpost, pulled out an old flip phone, and pretended to make a call. It was the same thing Joe Horn did in a game 15 years earlier. It looked like it could’ve been the same phone.
It was funny! It was out of the blue. It was silly and genuine and clever and one of the best TD celebrations of the year. The Times-Picayune got awesome photos of it. Thomas told reporters he’d bought two flip phones at a “hole-in-the-wall liquor store” and put them in either end zone. (Horn had made the mistake of stashing a phone in only one end zone, and had to wait weeks because he kept scoring in the wrong one.) Thomas said he didn’t want to hurt his team with the celebration, which was a 15-yard penalty, and wouldn’t have done it until the fourth quarter. It was an instant classic touchdown celebration that iced one of the best football games of the season.
The announcers were mad. “It’s very uncharacteristic of Michael Thomas,” Troy Aikman lectured immediately after the touchdown. “It’s too big of a game to be risking those kinds of yards.” The cameras showed Thomas talking to Payton on the sideline.
Okay, sure. The Rams got the ball on their own 42 on the ensuing kickoff. (In Thomas’ defense, there were two missed tackles.) Aikman was still mad: “I just don’t understand it, Joe. He’s the last guy, the last superstar wide receiver that you would expect. He just goes about his business; he doesn’t have all the theatrics, and yet at one of the biggest moments of this game he pulls out a cell phone.”
It continued this way. The announcers didn’t even mention Joe Horn. The broadcast kept its viewers less informed for 10 minutes, maybe as some sort of protest? The on-field interview wasn’t actually about the touchdown catch or the funny celebration. Erin Andrews’s question to Thomas about the celebration, which finally did mention Joe Horn, was this: “What did Sean Payton think of it?”
The Fox crew on the postgame show was similarly angry about it. “I’m sure it would’ve been a little different story if he had ended up losing the football game,” host Curt Menefee said.
“I didn’t like it then,” Michael Strahan said, referring to Joe Horn’s original version. “I didn’t like it now. But I think guys want to be creative, they want to come up and have something different form what everybody else is doing. That I don’t like, when you do the prop, because there is also a manner of respect when you score a touchdown.” Howie Long had more: “What if they score quick?” he said as he shook his head.
Even Mike Francesa, allegedly a longtime famed sports talk radio host but more likely an elaborate hoax character the New York media has been pranking the rest of the country with for the last few decades, came out against it:
If nobody talks about the game it’ll be because you and Fox are spending so much time disparaging the celebration!
If this all sounds familiar, it’s what happened 15 years ago. When Horn hid a cell phone under the goalpost to celebrate a touchdown, TV types acted as if he’d taken a shit in Vince Lombardi’s hat. Tony Kornheiser said Horn “should be fined a million dollars.” He at least attempted to explain why the celebration was bad: “[I]t’s not just a little bit of fun. It’s a calculated thing to embarrass everybody out there. It’s nonsense. It’s to get him a contract with Nokia, or AT&T, or Sprint or whoever makes those phones.” How is a cell phone embarrassing? What is wrong with getting an endorsement deal in the slathered-with-advertising NFL? And here’s what Joe Theismann, then of ESPN, wrote about it:
I have to agree with Saints coach Jim Haslett when he said Horn’s actions aren’t what the Saints are about. This was a classless and extremely disheartening thing for Horn to do. This was a sheer example of selfish football that could’ve cost the Saints the game if the Giants had been able to take advantage of the great field position that resulted from the excessive celebration penalty. The Saints and the league are probably going to both fine Horn and he’s quite deserving of the loss of money.
Horn’s penalty came with the Saints up 17-7 in a game they won 45-7 against a team that finished 4-12. Theismann, like the Fox postgame crew, harped on the celebration penalty even though the Saints won and nothing bad happened. No doubt a bunch of blowhards are as excited for Thomas’s NFL fine as Theismann was for Horn losing money. A dude pulls out a cell phone to celebration a touchdown and someone, anyone, anywhere thinks he should lose money because of that? (ESPN says Horn was fined $30,000 for his second infraction of some kind that year; Thomas will lose at least $13,369. Not nice.)
It’s fine that Horn and Thomas were flagged. Obviously “putting a cell phone under the goalposts so you can pull it out after you score a touchdown and pretend to make a phone call in celebration” is against the rules of football. But what’s really wrong about it? Could Michael Thomas have wrecked the structural integrity of padding around the goalpost by hiding a cell phone underneath? Was Thomas making a crank call on that phone? What was true of Horn remains true of Thomas. His touchdown celebration was not offensive. It’s not mean. It’s not really taunting. Thomas is basically being a respectful student of the game’s history! He could’ve done the Ickey Shuffle, but instead he did this.
Horn was thrilled. “When I saw him bring out that cellphone, I teared up,” he said. “That’s something that some kids don’t do, to pay homage to an old soul. For him to do it on a national stage took a lot of courage. I’m humbled.” See! How cute is this?
Strahan said it took away from the great game viewers just saw. Come on; it didn’t. Simple prop celebrations can’t be so bad when an elaborate choreographed celebration, arguably much worse than pretending to make a phone call to celebrate a touchdown, is being promoted as “amazing” on the NFL’s official Twitter account.
Not one broadcaster explained what was so bad about using a prop to celebrate. Thomas was not even the only Saint to use one to celebrate in Sunday’s game: Benjamin Watson put the football under his jersey to simulate a pregnancy after his touchdown catch; Watson’s wife is having twins (the couple’s sixth and seventh kids). A real “look at me” moment by Watson, I guess.
Strahan wanted Thomas to go celebrate with his team. Joe Horn himself had a response to that:
So anyway, if you can believe it, some old broadcasters complained about a touchdown celebration.