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Touchdown Celebrations: The Good and the Bad of Michael Thomas’s Cell Phone

It was funny, but was Thomas right to pick up a premeditated penalty in a big game? Two former Browns teammates discuss...

Former Browns teammates Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins will be teaming up this year to provide analysis on the NFL season from the perspective of two former players. In this week’s ThomaHawk Thoughts, they share their opinions on Saints receiver Michael Thomas’s controversial cell phone touchdown celebration and whether players should be allowed to express themselves without restriction.

Joe Thomas: I thought Michael Thomas’s cell phone celebration was funny, I enjoyed it and I appreciated that someone as young as he is can reach back into the history books and pull out some of the greater celebrations in NFL history. I thought he did it at the right point in the game so as not to cause his team to lose, which was very intelligent.

Andrew Hawkins: The celebration was awesome, I loved it when Joe Horn did it, it was original, but you shouldn’t go into a game and give your team a penalty, especially in such a big game. Maybe I am the old guy saying, Get off my lawn, but I would always draw the line at getting a penalty, because you never know how that is going to come back. Obviously it worked out, but this is a Rams offense that is the most talented in the league. Imagine a world where they lose the game based on the great field position they gave up because of that penalty. He went into the game knowing that he was going to penalize his team. For any leader on a football team—if a quarterback did that, we would kill him for it because he's the leader. We don’t expect him to go in knowing that he is going to put his team in a bad situation. That’s the problem, not the cellphone celebration itself, just that it was a conscious decision to say, I am O.K. with giving my team a penalty, which any leader of a football team prides himself on not doing. Joe will probably argue the opposite, but I played with him and I know he would never go into the game and plan to give the team a penalty; and when he did get a penalty, he would be pissed off at himself all month for it.

Thomas: Hey man, he took a calculated risk and it paid off. We’ve been talking about it for a few days now and his team didn’t lose. So I’m sure he’s in that meeting right now with Sean Payton and they are laughing about it and Payton is saying, Hey, you know what, it wasn’t a smart decision and I don’t want to see you do this again, but it was funny and we won, so this is water under the bridge.

ORR: Don’t Look Down on Michael Thomas for his Cell Phone Touchdown Celebration

Hawkins: I’m glad celebrations are back because I grew up on the celebrations and it was my favorite part of football when I was getting really into the game. Chad Ochocinco was always my favorite player and he would always do something creative and it upped the entertainment value of the game.

Thomas: It’s great that the NFL is allowing players to express themselves a little bit more and entertain the fans because in the end, it’s an entertainment business. The only celebrations I don’t like are the ones that look forced. The choreographed ones where it looks like the everybody on the team is mailing it in. I want authentic celebrations, I want guys that are really passionate about it and feel like it’s funny, it’s unique, it’s creative and not that they feel like they are forced because they have to do something to celebrate a touchdown. Personally, I had a very strict no celebrating policy because my policy was I didn’t do anything on a football field that was going to waste energy. So I wouldn’t do anything that happened after the whistle was blown. I didn’t even run off the field. I would quietly and softly jog to the sideline, almost like a race walk, using as little energy as possible so I could to get to the bench where I could sit down and start drinking my gatorade. The last thing on the earth you would find me doing is jumping around in the end zone and getting tired.

Hawkins: That’s funny because it’s true. I actually—humbly—think I have one of the best celebrations of all time and to the day I die, I will think I had something to do with the rules being reversed. In 2016 we played the Patriots, and it was Tom Brady’s first game back after being suspended for four games. Everybody was watching, and I score the first touchdown of the game, and instead of celebrating, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t jump for joy, I literally just stopped. I put the ball down and started walking back like a robot. It was so anti-climatic that it went viral. Everyone was like, Oh, Hawkins trolls Roger Goodell because the celebration rules are so stupid, this is how the NFL wants players to respond! And then the very next year, the rules were reversed because it really shined a light on how ridiculous it was that everybody should get penalized for nothing.

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Thomas: I agree, that was the best celebration I’ve ever seen because it was creative but he did not get penalized. He made a statement and he entertained us. The more outlandish and crazy you get, a lot of times you are trying too hard. But what Hawk did, it was something nobody had ever thought about and it changed the rule for the better.

Hawkins: I’m a pioneer. I think I might have thought of the idea right before pregame. Touchdowns are hard to come by, especially for slot receivers when you’re out there for one play every four downs. I didn’t think it would go as big as it did. That anti-celebration is the only celebration I have ever done.

Thomas: Don’t let him kid you though. These receivers think about their celebrations a lot. He’ll act like it was spontaneous, but—

Hawkins: I have a mood board at my house, like O.K., in this scenario, I’ll do this...

Thomas: Oh yeah, I'm sure Michael Thomas was so spontaneous too. He just happened to have cellphones in both goalposts.

Hawkins: I do think you have to have a penalty for using a prop because you have to be able to control it in some fashion. Yes, it’s a cell phone but if you allow a cell phone, can you imagine what props people would put into a game? There’s literally no limit. You don’t know, they might pull a person out to celebrate! There has to be a line. The NFL did relax the rule so that using the football isn’t considered a prop, so I think there has to be a line or it will get out of hand real quick.

Thomas: I guess I’m kind of a libertarian when it comes to this. I feel like the coaching staff should be the ones that are in charge. And as long as the players aren’t doing anything that delays the game, don’t throw the penalty. I think if we left this up to the coaches, they would do a good job of policing their own players. I think the NFL, whenever possible, needs to stay out of things. We don’t need more rules, we need fewer.

Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins have their own football podcast, The ThomaHawk Show. Episodes post Mondays and Thursdays on Apple Podcasts or wherever podcasts are available