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When celebrating becomes clowning, the NFL suffers

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002

NFL teams have a dozen or more assistant coaches. I can't figure why so many are needed. There is everything but a get-me-coffee guy.

Jon Gruden began Tampa Bay's season with 14 sidekicks, then brother Jay was added. Gruden II is a fellow with a superb future, but doesn't that mean the Bucs have 16 coaches for 53 players?

One per 3.3 athletes?

They talk about CEOs.

The NFL reaps so much TV money, some franchises have hired everything but a parking lot coach to make sure jock BMWs, Escalades, Hummers and Mercedes are protected, serviced and shined.

Wonder if Tampa Bay or New England would be interested in paying me, say, a couple hundred thou a year to work as media preparations coach? Working to prepare athletes for ... nah, forget that, if might mean dealing with quirkballs like Randy Moss and Kyle Turley.

Still, I'm not sure NFL teams shouldn't cast at least one more kind of coaching assistant. Although it could signal something of a behavioral giveup on my part. A realization that pro football sportsmanship, demeanor and respect will never again attain the more admirable styles of Johnny Unitas or Terry Bradshaw eras.

Why not spend a few more lumps of NFL dough to hire a "showoff coach?" Egomaniacs need guidance. It's a league overburdened with amateur exhibitionists. Warren Sapp needs a dance teacher, or somebody to tell him those chubby quivers are painfully ugly.

Franchises could use a showoff coach even for harmless cutups like Bill Gramatica, a puny placekicker who, in overcelebrating a 2001 field goal, did a silly jump and sustained a season-ending torn knee ligament.

If you're a Gruden, a Dave Wannstedt or a Bill Belichick, your "showoff coach" could be responsible for helping players be more efficient in executing arrogant, premeditated gyrations that we see after even some terribly minimal achievements.

Hey, this is '02.

During training camp, showoff assistants could hold classes such as Ostentation 101 and Advanced Trash Talking. Players could be coached in popup moves; you know, where a guy quickly separates himself from the sweaty crowd for optimum exposure.

Are you with me?

I hope not.

Nah, I'm not changing. Not even if Moss begs me. I retract all those ideas. I don't want the Old Codger Association revoking my membership.

It would be far better if 60,000 ticket-buying stadium "assistants" opted to demean rather than encourage animalistic, unsporting acts that few of us want our children or neighbors emulating.

Sadly, the brassy, in-your-face attitudes have become more than ever a whopper part of the NFL's heartbeat. Seemingly all but officially stamped by commissioner Paul Tagliabue's office. Television directors never miss an opportunity to overexpose the obnoxious.

"It makes me sick," said Cris Collinsworth, former Cincinnati Bengals and Florida Gators receiver who now comments on TV for Fox and HBO. "All the stupid attitudes and ridiculous actions."

It would take a colossal NFL upset to reverse the trend in search of fuller sportsmanship. It's something that almost certainly would have to start with the public. Showoff jocks do what they do because it amuses a few chums and NFL crowds are too prone to react favorably.

It's invigorating to see athletes happy over success. Legitimate accomplishments that stir emotions into a high but appropriate gear.

Never should NFL mean No Fun League. Exuberance is a huge part of playing such a combative game. But the runaway fools are simple to identify. Over-the-edge, low-taste habits I still believe are opposed by a heavy if not vocal majority.

Dick Butkus was violent and rambunctious, but he didn't act like a crazed alien over making a mere tackle. Joe Greene played harder than hard for the greatest of Pittsburgh Steelers but never did he turn his joy into a egomaniacal circus act.

About now, somebody in a sports bar is putting a lighted match to this column. There are shouts of, "Grow up, old man!" Somebody will belch in my honor.

Hey, it's a free country.

What I'd like to do is walk into such a public establishment, one step ahead of Emmitt Smith, John Lynch, Darrell Green, Brian Urlacher, Peyton Manning, Warrick Dunn and Brett Favre. Tough, class acts. Would they be taunted?

Yeah, right.

Believe it, there is still a strong majority of practitioners on NFL rosters that is abundant with personal class, having little use for the showoff garbage, always maintaining a healthy, sensible level of human respect for opponents.

Would you buy a "civility coach?"

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail or write to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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