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Sportsmanship is a dying art in football

"When you go to the middle of our field and start doing the dance Shawne Merriman is known for, that is disrespectful. They showed no class and maybe that comes from the head coach."

Those were the words of NFL MVP and San Diego Charger running back LaDanian Tomlinson after the New England Patriots defeated the Chargers 24-21 in a playoff game Sunday. Tomlinson was fighting mad at some unknown Patriots after the game and had to be restrained by his teammates from busting up the Patriots little victory celebration, or dance party.

Please help me get this straight in my head. Tomlinson is talking about "no class" because he couldn't take the sight of his teammate being mocked after a gut wrenching loss. This teammate, Shawne Merriman, had created yet another taunting dance that he named "Lights Out" to celebrate every sack of the quarterback that season.

This teammate, Shawne Merriman, had also been suspended for four games by the NFL for taking a banned substance. Is that class or what?

What did Tomlinson expect? Did he think the Patriots players were going to drop to their knees and worship at the feet of Merriman? Did he think they were going to say to the Chargers, "Oh, thank you for letting us beat you in this most important game on your home field!"

I could care less about the Patriots, the Chargers, or most of the NFL teams, but I watch the games during playoff time because it is football. Reactions like this from professional players just about make me sick enough to not want to watch anymore. The truth is we've become immune to this junk, and we will continue to watch. We've seen and heard so much of this over the years that we hardly pay it any attention anymore.

One player is mad and ready to fight because he is on the losing end of a big game and has to watch the opponent do what his team has been doing all season. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and he can't take it. Well you know, what goes around, comes around.

I can remember years ago when the Washington Redskins' receivers would gather in the end zone and do a little group dance after a touchdown. A Dallas Cowboy defender got mad after being beaten for a touchdown pass and tried to get in the circle and dissuade the Redskins from showing him up with their celebration. His coach, Tom Landry, said that if we don't let them catch touchdown passes we wouldn't have to worry about watching them dance.

Well-said, Tom Landry. If the Chargers didn't want the Patriots to demonstrate a lack of class by dancing on their field, they should have taken Landry's advice. Don't let them win the game.

It gets me how a team can drive 80 yards for a touchdown over the course of 10 plays and a runner who has not touched the ball the whole game will score on a one-yard plunge against a tired defense and act like he just cured cancer. The guy will spike the ball or throw it in the stands, or both, and then play to the crowd by cupping his hand to his ear and encourage them with the other hand. What about the 10 guys who helped him?

Ohio State's Ted Ginn, Jr. displayed a little hand cupping action after his kickoff return for a touchdown against Florida in the national championship game. This was the opening play, and I guess Ginn thought the rout was on. He was right. The rout was on.

The biggest problem with all of this NFL taunting and over-zealousness is that younger guys see it, and it drifts down through the colleges and high schools and even to the recreation leagues. It becomes a right-of-passage at 12 years of age to learn how to act the fool when you make a play as routine as a first-down. I fully expect some player's agent to start getting patents on these choreographed gyrations. Remember the Atlanta Falcons' Dirty Bird dance?

I know I'm old-fashioned, and if I watch football I will see and hear stuff that I don't think belongs in the game. It is an emotional sport, but I wish the Merrimans and Tomlinsons of the world could save their lack of emotional control for the privacy of the locker room after the game. I'm also wise enough to know that is too much to expect these days.

Web posted on Thursday, January 18, 2007

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