One of my favorite characters from Greek mythology is the hubristic adventurer Icarus. As the tale goes, Icarus’ father, a master craftsman, fixed him wings composed of wax and feathers so that he might experience the sensation of flight. The only warning Icarus received from his father was to not fly too close to the sun, as the wax would then melt. Of course, as soon as Icarus took off and began soaring high above the ancient Mediterranean, he couldn’t stifle the urge to keep going. If it was so validating near sea level, surely his fun would multiply proportionally the higher he climbed.
And like a lot of other cocky humans not sponsored by Red Bull but yet riding the adrenaline rush of perceived immortality, Icarus crashed. Directly into the sea which now bears his name.
With Icarus in mind I would like to bring up his reincarnated soul siblings, three football players linked to him not by their Greek godly physiques, but rather the shared affliction of hubris. Case study number one is Detroit Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch gets paid to hit the quarterback. And on September 21st, he did just that against Green Bay. He sacked Aaron Rodgers, and there had to have been competing ideologies in his head.
Thought number one, courtesy of, oh, every coach he’s ever had: Act like you’ve been there before. Get up and go back to the huddle.
Thought number two, courtesy of Tulloch owning a television: Discount double-check this, you smug motherfucker.
Guess which idea prevailed. Tulloch, like Icarus before him, flew a little too high, jumping in the air to mimic the championship belt celebration we all know from Rodgers’ State Farm commercials. And also like Icarus before him, Tulloch crashed. To the turf, with a torn ACL.
We might see this as a flukey, isolated incident, but for our second modern anti-hero, Chicago Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston. Houston climbed the mountain top that all defenders stare up at in reverence. He sacked Tom Brady. Who cared that the Bears were getting throttled by Brady’s Patriots, Houston had taken down the only NFL player who has an endorsement deal with UGG.
But because Tom Brady is a child of the sun, Houston’s wax knees melted as he leaped like a third-grader leaving the classroom on summer break. Houston, too, tore his ACL and is out for the year.
And even if ligaments remain intact, the collateral damage of arrogance can have equally painful consequences. Stepping over momentarily to the NCAA, Kaelin Clay, a receiver for Utah, was coasting into the end zone Saturday to put his team up 14-0 against the Oregon Ducks. But he then dropped the ball before crossing the goal line and started posing for the crowd. An Oregon linebacker picked the ball up and ran 99 yards for a touchdown. It was Icarus, but worse than a mythological death, because it was live on ESPN. When guys like Clay see NFL players turning signature celebrations into television contracts, it encourages ramping up the showmanship to stand out. And our Greek friend can attest to how that turns out.
Football players are intrinsically pumped up with testosterone and ego and the theatrical machismo that has turned the NFL into a billion dollar industry. But if it’s human nature to celebrate, and also human nature to sabotage our own success via said celebrations, what is the NFL to do? The No Fun League has banned the use of celebratory props and thus turned celebrations into an interpretative competition of jumps and gyrations.
I thus fear we may be looking at an epidemic of celebration-related disasters. And so I have a pitch to make to the NFL’s Zeus, one Roger Goodell. Create an additional roster spot for a designated reveler. The defensive player makes the sack, looks to the sideline, and on comes a professional dancer to do a high-flying pirouette, flex at the camera, and spew a generic footballism like “Let’s fucking go!” The dancer then returns to the sideline and play resumes as normal. Nobody gets hurt.
There are tons of struggling performers out there for whom this would be a life-changing opportunity. Think of it, instead of trying desperately to latch on as a backup dancer touring with Chris Brown, they could literally be on the Browns. I know you don’t like to shake up the apple cart, Roger, but do you really want to keep seeing your players fail so spectacularly celebrating their own accomplishments? Let’s leave the dancing to the professionals. The death of Icarus shall not be in vain!