Late Saturday night, as we all watched Baker Mayfield do a lap of the Horseshoe and plant -- check that, try to plant -- the block "OU" flag into the block "O" at the 50-yard line, my mind drifted, as it often does, to "The Sandlot." You remember the scene in which Wendy Peffercorn applies suntan lotion, and a mesmerized Squints Palledorous says, "She don't know what she's doing!" Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez responds, "Yeah, she does. She knows exactly what she's doing."
That's typically how these jubilations go: impulsive improvisation with a little premeditation mixed in. Sure, there is spontaneity at the root of any joyous explosion. But even if it's the subconscious steering the celebratory ship, it is still being pointed in certain directions by certain emotions, and those emotions, they typically arrive with a need to get a little something off the chest -- or, in the case of Kansas State one year ago, out of a teammate's stomach.
Or with Ohio State fans rushing the field and commemorating a Rose Bowl-clinching win by tearing down a goal post that isn't even their goal post. That's what the Buckeyes faithful did at Indiana in '96. It cost the school $1,500. Said then-coach John Cooper: "We'll pay that bill with a smile on our face."
So no matter what Mayfield's mental processes or morning-after apologies, deep down, he truly never gave a rip how his stunt would play in Ohio. He doesn't live in Ohio (at least not until the Cleveland Browns draft him). He lives in Oklahoma, and he knew exactly how the moment was going to play with his people. In Norman, Mayfield's flag-bearing act is already the stuff of Sooner legend. One day, they will sell paintings of his celebration in the OU bookstore. How do we know this? Because that is already done with similar celebrations throughout college football history.
Take, for instance, Peyton Manning directing Tennessee's Pride of the Southland band in "Rocky Top." You can purchase an original oil rendition of that celebration on Etsy for $40. The image portrayed by the artist is the moment most connected with Manning and the band, with Manning in his orange home jersey following his final home victory 17-10 over Vanderbilt. But true Tennessee fans know that was actually the second time Manning took on the role of maestro.
Alabama fans certainly remember.
The image of No. 16 using his arms as batons still leaves Bama fans seeing orange two decades later. When Manning announced his retirement from the NFL in 2016, Roll Tide message boards were still howling about his postgame celebration. Wrote one user, Alajambama of Fyffe, Alabama: "The Mannings are usually as classy as they come, but that Rocky Top crap still stings and a little part of me laughs every time he gets sacked or throws a pick even now." Replied another: "Yeah, f---ing 1995, they won 41-14. ... I die a little inside every time I laugh at one of his commercials."
But here's the thing: Their Crimson rage over Manning's turn as conductor engulfed so long ago that they don't even remember it correctly.
"Yeah, it wasn't 1995. It was two years later," Manning recalled recently. "When I was fortunate enough to take over at quarterback in '95, Tennessee hadn't beaten Alabama in a long time, like nine years. Then our teams went 3-0 against them. That last win, at Legion Field [in '97], I got a little excited and got up on the ladder and conducted the band in some 'Rocky Top.' Honestly, it wasn't even my idea."
It's true. It wasn't. He had run down to the end zone of Legion Field to join in the impromptu pep rally with the visiting Tennessee fans and the marching band they'd surrounded. Brand-new band director Dr. Gary Sousa grabbed Manning, handed him a baton and suggested that the QB climb the ladder and take his place for the next round of "Rocky Top."
It was an instant classic. Unless you were one of the Alabama fans still trying to exit the stadium.
Manning has climbed that ladder multiple times since, even taking the baton in front of the Colorado Symphony during his time with the Denver Broncos. He also led them in "Rocky Top." A succession of Tennessee quarterbacks have done the same in homage, and just last weekend retired head coach Phillip Fulmer climbed the ladder with his grandkids during the Vols' home opener.
It still burns back in Tuscaloosa. As one message boarder so eloquently phrased it: "I still see [him conducting] in slow motion some nights when I close my eyes."
As easily as Manning annually disposed of Bama, the team he couldn't beat was Florida. The man who led those kryptonite-laced opponents was head coach Steve Spurrier, who might always be a Gator in Gainesville but everywhere else is known as the original, pre-social-media troll.
With all due respect to Knoxville and even Tallahassee, Spurrier might still be most reviled in, of all places, Chapel Hill. Why? In 1989, Darth Visor was head coach at Duke, and he led the lowly Blue Devils to their first ACC championship in 27 seasons. That title was clinched at North Carolina's Kenan Stadium by a score of 41-0 over the archrival Tar Heels. The Duke players ran off the field and into the locker room to celebrate, only to have their coach cut them off and tell them to hustle back outside.
"I wanted to take a picture underneath that little high school scoreboard they used to have in the end zone right by the field house. You know, before they turned it off, while the score was still up there," Spurrier said in 2014, when he recalled the moment while standing in his office at South Carolina, directing the writer and photographer to a framed 8x10 glossy hanging among all his Gamecocks memorabilia. "I hang this picture wherever I go. I rank that win over North Carolina right up there with my national championship and SEC championships. It meant so much to those Duke folks to beat those guys. I don't think the fans who were still leaving the stadium much liked us out there posing and singing all that, but whatever."
Spurrier-led Duke and the team photo @ UNC after winning 41-0 for a share of the ACC title in 1989. pic.twitter.com/uID6Gupewa— Zack Albert (@zack_albert) September 11, 2017
While Spurrier was taking his long road from Durham to Florida to the NFL to South Carolina, the Gamecocks were stuck in their own Duke-like mediocrity until a brash, rattail-wearing freshman quarterback took the reins in 1992. Steve Taneyhill led 0-5 South Carolina to five wins in the season's final six games, including victories over ranked squads from Mississippi State and Tennessee. During those wins, he started a routine of celebrating TD passes by taking imaginary home run swings at midfield and standing at "the plate" to watch his work, a la Jose Canseco.
But when he ended the season by knocking off Clemson for his team's first win over its archnemesis in five years, he added a signature move ... like, literally a signature move. As soon as the 24-13 victory was iced in a rainy Death Valley, the QB ran to midfield, crouched over the iconic orange tiger paw and used his finger to air-autograph a big "STEVE TANEYHILL" over the top of it. Then he stood up and extended his arms to the heavens. Photos of his pose still hang in homes all over Columbia, South Carolina. He knows because he is asked to autograph them whenever he shows up for home games.
"The home run thing we'd been doing for a while, so that wasn't a surprise. But the autograph, that was totally spontaneous. The atmosphere in that stadium was so incredible, I couldn't help it," Taneyhill recalled in 2015.
These days, he owns Group Therapy, the oldest of old-school Gamecocks watering holes in Columbia's Five Points bar district. And what do you think greets patrons as they arrive at the front door? A poster of his Shawshank Redemption moment.
Between being a football legend and a football bar owner, Taneyhill was a football coach, winning a handful of high school state championships. What advice did he have for any of his players who might be anxious to emulate his big moment?
"I love to see real emotion and passion," he said. "I tell them to celebrate together, to really enjoy the moment. But don't get us hit with a penalty."
Ah, yes, that: the key element to the success of any unhinged, thumbing-your-nose celebration. To underline the importance of that point, we go to the people who wrote the entire celebration personal foul section of the rulebook, the 1991 Miami Hurricanes.
"Yeah, that's on us," recalled Randall Hill, wide receiver for the Canes in the infamous 1991 Cotton Bowl vs. Texas. Hill and his teammates were angry about being outliers in the national championship discussion. That displeasure was worsened by what they felt were disrespectful comments from the Longhorns, with a fuse lit by the word "thugs." The fourth-ranked Canes proceeded to annihilate the third-ranked Horns 46-3. The score might have been 100-3, had Miami not incurred 202 yards via 15 penalties, nine of which were personal fouls. The most-remembered moment was Hill's third-quarter, 48-yard TD reception, after which he ran through the end zone and up into the Cotton Bowl tunnel, where he turned around and broke into a dance that included the drawing and firing of his imaginary six-shooters.
You know, like someone from Texas. On Monday in Austin, I asked some actual people from Texas about that game. All immediately turned red in the face ... and it wasn't because they were embarrassed. "If I saw that little jackass right now, I would throw this table at him," said Jim Bechtel, a gray-haired, sauce-covered patron at Ruby's BBQ. "It still makes me so damn mad."
Reminder: The game took place nearly 27 years ago.
When the NCAA rulebook introduced its "Excessive Celebration" penalty the following summer, the book came with a video to help coaches, teams and officials identify exactly what an excessive celebration looked like. What it looked like was Randall Hill in the Cotton Bowl.
"I don't think anyone would take any of that back," Hill recalled in 2009 while promoting the 30 for 30 film "The U." "But I think what we also taught everyone was if you're going to trick out your celebration, wait until after the game is over. They don't throw flags at you then."
It's true. They won't. But push it too far, and the opposing fans might throw something else at you.
The home crowd? They'll only throw laurels at your feet. Or at least hang a framed image of your celebration in their living room.