Emotions play role in TD celebrations



Chris Matthews didn’t even think about what he was doing. Already up 24-13, the senior wide receiver had just hauled in a 55-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of UK’s win over Vanderbilt, putting the Cats three scores ahead of the Commodores.

He coasted into the end zone and spiked the ball. Penalty flags flew. The Cats were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff.

“It was big for me,” Matthews said. “My family was there sitting in the stands, it was Senior Day. I was real emotional. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Even though the game was all but in hand at that point, UK head coach Joker Phillips still berated Matthews on the sideline for being selfish. According to NCAA rules, “Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)” is illegal. Players must return the ball to the official promptly after the play ends, or leave it at the spot of the dead ball. In April, the NCAA added to the rule, outlawing high-stepping or pointing at opponents as players are on their way to a touchdown.

Matthews said he wouldn’t consider doing another touchdown celebration even in a blowout. In addition to hurting the team, he said NFL scouts also frown upon players who can’t control their emotions. But he’d like to see the rule changed to allow for celebrations, as would several other Cats.

“I hate it. We should be able to celebrate,” said sophomore wide receiver La’Rod King, who has scored five touchdowns this year. “We work that hard to make a touchdown, we ought to have a little freedom. Not too much, like T.O. (Terrell Owens) or a Chad (Ochocinco), but a little thing like a handshake or some type of routine. I think that takes away the fun of the game in a way.”

King, perhaps the most prolific dancer on the team, said he might throw the ball in the crowd and perform a two-step (Matthews said he thought King would be too nervous to dance in front of the Commonwealth Stadium crowd). King would consider a touchdown celebration in spite of the penalty, though only in the right situation. In a situation similar to Matthews’, during a touchdown with a big lead on Senior Day, he might celebrate.

“I’d love to do one like L.T. (LaDanian Tomlinson), the flick off the wrist,” sophomore tailback Donald Russell said. He’s reached the end zone twice this year, but he said he’d be too afraid of what the coaches would do on the sideline after drawing a penalty.

“I would love to see La’Rod spike the ball and then come over to the sideline and get cussed out,” Matthews joked. “If this was last year and I would have spiked the ball, Coach (Rich) Brooks would have been all up in my a**. I came over to the sideline and Coach Phillips just told me I couldn’t do it again.”

All three players said they’d like to see the rule changed to allow for celebrations, though they agreed that there should be limits placed on what is acceptable. They favored a rule slightly more lenient than the NFL’s, which still doesn’t allow for premeditation or for teammates to participate. Spikes, dunks, jumps into the first row of the crowd, spins, dances and simple celebrations are all legal in the NFL, but excessive celebration is a 15-yard penalty.

“It’s an emotional game. I feel that a lot of the higher-up people who control football, they’re making this the no-fun league,” Matthews said. “You can’t do a lot of stuff now. I can see if you’re taking it to another level, that’s too much, but spiking the ball, high-stepping, I don’t think stuff like that should be penalized.”