From the first 'spike' to the 'dab,' a look at the history of the end zone celebration

History of touchdown dances (3:11)

Famous end zone performers Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Ickey Woods and Jamal Anderson give their takes on the controversy regarding Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's touchdown dances. (3:11)

Maybe Rosemary Plorin and her 9-year-old daughter need to get out more.

On Sunday, after taking in the fourth-quarter "dab" dance of the Panthers' Cam Newton, Plorin wrote the quarterback a letter deploring his "pelvic thrusts" and "in-your-face" taunting of the Titans' players. He was, she insisted, an unsuitable role model for her daughter.

Did we mention Plorin lives in Nashville and was sitting through a 27-10 Carolina victory over her Titans? It was never like this back in the day. Nah. Except that it was.

End zone celebrations have been going on for half a century now. Long before Newton was dancing, men of the NFL were exploring different means of post-touchdown self-expression. Newton is merely celebrating the 50th anniversary.

Remember the "Ickey Shuffle," the catchy Ickey Woods number that resurfaced last year in a GEICO commercial? It was born in 1988, a year before Newton.

"Personally, I just like to see people having fun," Woods said earlier this week at his home in Cincinnati. "Because that's what the game should be: The game should be fun."

Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, one of the first to bring dance moves to the end zone, put it this way: "We're gladiators. We're in the arena. We're supposed to give a show. We're supposed to be entertaining."

Jamal Anderson, another legendary celebrator, is on the same page.

"He's having a good time," Anderson said of Newton. "He's making plays. They're winning a lot of football games. I don't have any problem with it, and I don't think anybody else should."

A few days later, Plorin capitulated by saying she was impressed with Newton's "sensitivity" and "graciousness" in responding to questions about her letter.

Welcome to our world, Rosemary.

There's more where that came from. As a special pre-Thanksgiving treat, here's a tasty, informal history of the end zone celebration by decades:

The first spike

The phone rings in Pittsburg, Texas. A gruff voice answers.


"Uh, is this Mr. Jones, the man who invented the touchdown spike?"

"Yeah. What do you want?"

"The story. How did it happen?"

Here it is:

Homer Jones was a lightning-quick wide receiver for the New York Giants, who didn't play much his rookie season in 1964. But in the fifth game of the 1965 season, on Oct. 17, he got his first career start against the Philadelphia Eagles at Yankee Stadium.

He had seen teammates Frank Gifford and Alex Webster hurl footballs into the stands after scoring touchdowns, and he ached to emulate them. The problem was NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle had outlawed the practice in the offseason and attached a $50 fine to the flippant act.

Thus, Jones was conflicted after he caught a second-quarter, 89-yard pass from Earl Morrall.

"I was fixing to throw it into the grandstand," Jones remembered. "But just as I was raising my arm, the reality snapped into my head. Mr. Rozelle would have fined me. That was a lot of money in those days. So I just threw the ball down into the end zone, into the grass. Folks got excited, and I did it for the rest of my career."

It was a short, almost back-handed deposit -- not the flamboyant mega-spike you see today. Nevertheless, 50 years ago, a financial necessity became the brilliant mother of invention. In a word: history.

He called it "The Spike."

You're welcome, Rob Gronkowski.

Taking the dare

In his 1973 "Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl" piece, Rolling Stone correspondent Hunter S. Thompson quoted Steelers defensive tackle Tom Keating as calling the NFL "the last bastion of fascism in America."

One year later, into this curious and constricting void stepped Billy "White Shoes" Johnson.

He had already tended toward flamboyance, earning his nickname by dyeing his football spikes at Chichester High School in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. After seeing Kansas City's Elmo Wright doing a dance in the end zone, he got the idea for an adaptation of the "Funky Chicken" if he was lucky enough to score for the Houston Oilers.

"I was a rookie, and it was against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who would go on to be world champions later that year," Johnson said at home in Duluth, Georgia. "We were playing against a rival team of ours, and I said some things to some of our ballplayers. I took a dare, to be honest with you. And if I took that dare, I had to fulfill it.

"When it happens, it just overtakes you. Oh my goodness."

Johnson has no sympathy for the haters.

"It's extremely hard to get there," he said. "So I think when someone gets into the end zone and he celebrates, he earned the right to do it."

Live from Cincinnati

The first "Ickey Shuffle" was a disaster.

The Bengals' rookie running back had promised his mother he would do a little dance if he scored against the Cleveland Browns.

"Boy," she said, "you better not do that."

But of course he did.

"Woods, what was that?" teammate Rickey Dixon asked. "Man, that thing was whack."

So Ickey went back to work.

"Rick, Rick, check this out," he said the next week. "When I score, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to go one, two, three to the right. Then one, two, three to the left. I'm going to hop back three times and spike the ball."

Dixon smiled. "Ick, man, that is going to be live."

And so it was.

This was right around the tipping point for celebrations of all kinds. At about the same time, the Soviet Union was experiencing glasnost -- "openness" -- under Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Berlin Wall came down on the cusp of the 1990s.

"Once I had it perfected, everybody was loving it," Woods said. "It swept the country. It actually swept the world."

'Yeah, it's a touchdown'

Jamal Anderson was a 9-year-old running back when Walter Payton blew his mind.

"I saw him high-step into an end zone, and I could not wait to play," Anderson said in his suburban Atlanta home. "If I was going to score, the first thing I thought was, 'Oh my God. I've got to be like Walter Payton.'

"And I remember I took off and had a long touchdown run, and in the last 10, 15 yards, I started high-stepping. Forget about it: There's nothing like scoring a touchdown. What other time is there to celebrate than when you get into the end zone?"

Like the "Ickey Shuffle," the "Dirty Bird" experienced an evolution through the 1990s. The first one came about when the Falcons were preparing to meet the Giants in a nationally televised game.

"We were literally driving back home from dinner," Anderson said. "O.J. Santiago, Ray Buchanan, Bob Whitfield, we were talking about what could we do -- what could we do a little bit something extra? And that's when I came up with the Dirty Bird."

Perhaps the best version was executed against the San Francisco 49ers.

"It was a tough touchdown," Anderson said. "I remember spinning off Merton Hanks and getting in the end zone. When I was getting up, I saw the cameras and I saw the red light, so I started rocking in the camera. Like, I'm swaying for the audience at home, like, 'Yeah, it's a touchdown.'

"I grew up around Michael Jackson. I saw the camera and the red light. I looked at it as 'This is my 'Beat It' moment.'"

Over the top?

Over the years, celebrations have proliferated. Some practitioners, such as Terrell Owens, have consciously choreographed them to include Sharpies and popcorn and cheerleaders' pom-poms.

Sometimes our old-school celebrants sounded a bit like their fathers when they talked about the kids today.

"Celebration is one thing, but a lot of it is mockery," said Homer Jones, who started it all. "To tell you the truth, it caused so many things, so many bad things. If I had known how it was going to turn out, I wouldn't have done it."

White Shoes concurs.

"Sometimes, I think they're over the top, truthfully" Johnson said. "I think it causes some of these guys to sit back and want to choreograph what they're going to do in the end zone. It's not the spontaneity that really gets the crowds excited."

That said, they all agree Newton is well within his rights. Woods said he particularly likes it when Newton pulls out his Superman.

"What Cam's doing, I like that," Woods said. "It's not really a dance. It's just him, doing his, 'Yeah, you know, I got this in there. Yeah.' I just like to see guys having fun, man."

Anderson doesn't think Newton is being disrespectful.

"If you want to stop somebody from celebrating, stop them from scoring. You don't want to see the 'Dirty Bird?' Don't let me score."