Fifth down

Published November 28, 2004

TAMPA - Bucs coach Jon Gruden is among the most creative offensive play-callers in the NFL. Each week, he spends hours, days even, working on ways to get his players into the end zone. And what do those players do once they get there?

So far, not much.

A muscle flex here, a ball spike there. That's it. When it comes to touchdown celebrations, the Bucs get the requisite six on the scoreboard, but don't score many points for style or originality.

The Bucs have 23 touchdowns this season - 20 on offense, three on defense - and the most memorable bit of joyous self-expression was receiver Joe Jurevicius' spontaneous heel-clicking jig Sunday against the 49ers, a move Jurevicius admitted opened him up to abuse. Spontaneity is good for romance, bad for touchdown dances.

Now, Jurevicius gets credit for sprinting toward the corner of the stadium to give one touchdown ball to an Air Force pilot to show his appreciation for the military. High marks, indeed, for patriotism and honor. And Jurevicius gets credit, again, for planning to paint another touchdown ball pink to give to his baby girl, Caroline.

But that dance? C'mon, is this what people around the league should think of the Bucs? That they clog in their spare time?

"I don't know," said rookie receiver Michael Clayton, who has three touchdowns. "Guys are telling me about that, saying I need to come up with something. After seeing Joe's touchdown dance, I might think of something. Something classy. Something funny."

Running back Michael Pittman has seven touchdowns this season without so much as a mock biceps curl. Tight end Ken Dilger has three, corner Ronde Barber two, fullback Mike Alstott one. Tight Will Heller, fullback Jameel Cook and receivers Tim Brown and Bill Schroeder also have one touchdown each.

Where's the flashy moves?

"We'll get there," said Heller, whose muscleman pose at St. Louis wasn't even worthy of a replay on Monday Night Football. "Stay tuned. We'll see what we've got."

Of course, the NFL does not exactly encourage individual expression. Any celebration involving more than one player or that is perceived as taunting an opponent is considered "excessive" and comes with a 15-yard penalty.

No one wants that.

But even flamboyant Eagles receiver Terrell Owens has figured out ways to revel within the rules, without pulling a Sharpie out of his sock or swiping a cheerleader's pompoms. He's done situps, a mock ice-skating move and a spot-on imitation of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' signature dance.

So far, the best celebrations at Raymond James Stadium have come from Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, who slam-dunked the ball over the goal post crossbar - yawn - and receiver Johnnie Morton, who did the worm. Okay, the worm isn't exactly cutting-edge choreography, but it's something.

On Sunday, the Bucs scored a season-high 35 points, including a 55-yard interception return by cornerback Torrie Cox. After beating his chest a couple times, Cox was swarmed by teammates and nearly knocked unconscious by Corey Ivy.

"I thought I had a slight concussion he jumped on me so hard," Cox said.

Smelling salts should not be part of the party.

"We don't have many guys scoring who are the type of guys to do something," safety Dwight Smith said. "Torrie, that was his first time in the end zone. Let him get back and he'll have something for you."

Cox does have a plan.

Three times this season he has come within an eyelash of ending 28 years of Tampa Bay humiliation over never having returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Everyone expects Cox to do it soon and he plans to cap that historic event with a worthy celebration.

"I got something, about five seconds," Cox said. "I'm not trying to get hit with that fine. Five seconds. And you can't make it look like it's going to your teammates. It's a little solo dance, but when everybody gets down there, we're all going to dance."