Cam Newton said his end zone dance took him somewhere we all want the NFL to be -- a happy place. He celebrated a touchdown for his unbeaten Carolina Panthers the way boys and girls everywhere celebrate their mad touch-football dashes on the playground, and for good reason.
"I'm a kid at heart," Newton said.
His reward? Some offended members of the not-so-unbeaten Tennessee Titans got right up in his face mask, and the mother of a Nashville fourth-grader wrote a letter of complaint to Newton (and ultimately, to his fan base via The Charlotte Observer), criticizing "the chest puffs. The pelvic thrusts. The arrogant struts." In it, she sounded like an angry TV viewer in the 1950s whenever a camera showed Elvis Presley gyrating from head to toe, and not just from the censors' preferred above-the-waist angles.
But even she was won over by Newton in the end, emailing The Observer on Thursday to say she appreciated his respect for her thoughts and that it's clear "he truly cares about the kids watching him."
This was the week that was in the NFL, a mild crisis when measured against the recent alternatives and yet one that inspired some legitimate questions, some more serious than others. What should be allowed when one man wants to party over six points scored at the expense of another? Why do people seem to get more upset when quarterbacks celebrate than they do when wide receivers and pass-rushers engage in similar stunts? And why does it seem black quarterbacks get more grief for emotional in-game responses than their white counterparts?
Just look at the league's only 9-0 franchise players. Tom Brady does his exaggerated gesture signaling a first down after a rare scramble comes up big, and he's hailed as the kind of fiery leader a contender needs. Newton? He performs his brief "Superman" routine and, now, a "dab" and "Hit dem folks" combo special as a nod to his teenage brother, and his leadership becomes a point of debate from coast to coast.
Sure, it's yet another window on America's soul on matters of black and white, and it does remind of baseball's obvious divide between white players and their Latin American peers over bat flipping and proper ways to round the bases after a home run. But I suspect the conversation cuts across generational lines, too, because this much is clear: I've never met a young football fan who didn't love end zone dances. And I've asked a lot of them.
Those are the people the NFL should care about most; they're good for business, you know. Young fans become middle-aged, and they'll spend a lot of disposable income on tickets, jerseys and buddy trips to the Super Bowl. In the spirit of defending this older generation, I'd like to open an imaginary email bag of questions to help establish guidelines for what should and shouldn't be allowed in NFL end zones this weekend and beyond. Here goes:
Q: What did you think of Cam Newton's dance?
A: Loved it. He turned away from Titans defenders and reminded everyone it's OK to have a little fun while playing a dangerous game. It's extremely difficult to score a touchdown in the NFL, and I have no problem with a player who scores one expressing some joy and relief.
Q: Didn't you at least think Newton's dance was two or three seconds too long, or two or three gyrations too many?
A: No, if anything, I didn't think it was long enough. It was an entertaining dance, and like the vast majority of fans, I like entertainment. In fact, for home games, I think skill-position players should provide public-address announcers celebratory songs to play when they hit paydirt, much like walk-up music in baseball. I only ask that touchdown dancers head to the back of the end zone, away from all beaten defenders.
Q: Do you think bat flipping after a home run should be allowed in baseball?
A: Yes. Baseball needs to better connect with younger fans, and younger fans get a kick out of bat flipping. I only ask the Jose Bautistas of the game to always flip their bats toward their own dugouts.
Q: What end zone dancer did you grow up on?
A: Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, the granddaddy of them all.
Q: What's your favorite all-time end zone celebration?
A: Chad Johnson's Riverdance, and it has nothing to do with my surname (I think).
Q: What's your least favorite all-time end zone celebration?
A: The Ickey Shuffle. I thought it was just a shuffle that was icky and overrated, though I do think his recent Geico/cold-cuts commercial is quite funny and a lot better than his original dance.
Q: NFL rules state that the following gestures/moves cannot be directed at an opponent: sack dance, home run swing, "Incredible Hulk," spiking the ball, spinning the ball, throwing or shoving the ball, pointing, pointing the ball, verbal taunting, military salute, standing over an opponent (prolonged and with provocation), and dancing. If you had to allow one, which would it be?
A: Hmmm. I've always been a big "Incredible Hulk" guy going back to his Lou Ferrigno days (look it up), so let's go with that one.
A: I was too shocked at how much Ray Lewis looked like an undersized cornerback standing next to Watt to decipher it. No, I thought Watt's line came off as rehearsed and unoriginal. Dalton's response was his worst pass of the year.
Q: What did you think of Carson Palmer's gesture toward the Seattle crowd?
A: If it was directed at fans, and not friends as he claimed, it was lame, and vulgar and WWE-ish. Worth a fine. I would also fine Drew Stanton for that sad attempt at a Rockettes kick at the end of his windmilling, fist-pumping bit on the sideline.
Q: Over the years, have you approved of Brady's hard-chopping first-down signal, and does that dramatic gesture fall under the league's ban on "baiting or taunting acts or words that engender ill will between teams"?
A: Yes and no. I always thought this was Brady's way of raging against the draft doubters and those who thought he wasn't athletic enough to ever run for first downs, and I have no more problem with it than, say, Aaron Rodgers' championship belt routine.
Q: Outside of Chad Johnson's Riverdance, what are your five favorite all-time end zone dances?
A: Green Bay's Lambeau Leap. Steve Smith's sword fight. Joe Horn's flip phone. Terrell Owens' cheerleader pom-poms. TO pulling the Sharpie out of his sock, signing the ball, and handing it to a fan.
Q: What was your favorite part of Cam Newton's celebration?
A: How he met the Titans' aggressive response with more dance moves. And how he made sure he retrieved the ball and gave it to a fan.
Q: Would you be cool with it if Newton scores a touchdown against Washington on Sunday and runs by Kirk Cousins shouting, "You like that"?
A: I would be extremely disappointed if Newton didn't do that.
Q: If you could put in a Super Bowl dance request for Newton, what would it be?
A: Electric Slide. I'm sticking up for my generation now.
Q: What struck you most about the way Newton handled the backlash to his dance?
A: He spoke of the joy he felt inside, the joy he hoped was felt by those watching at home. And he said the letter writer was entitled to her opinion. In other words, Cam Newton acted the way he has all season. Like a pro.