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From surfing to the worm, touchdown celebrations aren't always planned

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

MIAMI — In the crowning moment of the greatest football game of his professional life, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert showed exactly why players love the NFL’s relaxed celebration rules.

This was Jan. 19, the third quarter of the 49ers’ dominant 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, and Mostert had just galloped into the end zone again, his 22-yard run marking his fourth touchdown of the day. 

And in one fell swoop, Mostert dropped the football to celebrate, took it back from receiver Deebo Samuel (who had just picked it up) and proceeded to hand it to his center, Ben Garland, who knew exactly what to do with it. 

Garland, surrounded by five teammates, took three steps forward and — wham! — spiked the ball as hard as he could, with all five teammates enthusiastically simulating the motion with him. 

“We started it a few weeks ago,” Garland told Yahoo Sports. “Raheem Mostert, that dude’s incredible. He kept scoring all these touchdowns, and he came to us and goes, ‘You know, I want to share this glory with the o-line,’ so each week he’s been trying to find a specific o-lineman to get the ball to. So he tries to get it to every single one of us.”

And he has. Against the Packers, Mostert’s career day allowed him to cross off the two linemen on his list he hadn’t given the ball to after a touchdown: Garland and guard Mike Person, who did it in the second quarter, after Mostert’s second touchdown.

“Yeah, Raheem looks out for us,” Person told Yahoo Sports. “It was a pretty cool moment to be able to do that in that situation. That’s the type of dude he is.”

And when you see these moments live — not to mention the enthusiastic way Garland joined in on Mostert’s other signature touchdown celebration, the surf (which he did after his first touchdown) — it’s easy to come away thinking the 49ers spend a bunch of time practicing these celebrations. 

But that’s just not true, players insist.

“K.B. usually choreographs his stuff,” Person said. “But everybody else just likes making fools of themselves, really.”

When celebrations aren’t planned

K.B. is 49ers’ third-year receiver Kendrick Bourne, who takes it upon himself to make sure the 49ers bring their swagger on Sundays.

“Handshakes are obviously choreographed,” Bourne told Yahoo Sports. “That’s the only thing we really do that’s planned.”

Before every game, Bourne does custom handshakes with all his fellow receivers in the end zone. He describes it as a bonding ritual, something that stokes team camaraderie. Sometimes, they’ll even do it during the game on the field, to celebrate big plays.

“The handshakes and stuff, it’s easy to come up with because we want to do it; it’s fun to us,” Bourne said. “And we enjoy showing it to the world.”

Most of the planning for these handshakes come on Fridays, Bourne says, which makes sense, since Fridays are customarily a light day for NFL players.

“Fast Fridays,” Bourne said. “We feel good, we’re scoring touchdowns. We’re just vibing out.”

But let’s just say that type of celebration practice does not extend to the 49ers’ offensive linemen, who like to occasionally show off their impromptu dance moves following big plays in games. 

For instance, Person said tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey each started dancing after Mostert’s third-quarter score last week — which gave the 49ers an insurmountable 34-7 lead — even though you might have missed them from television.

“We just have a lot of stupid dances in the background,” Person said. “It’s kinda funny — you see Joe and Mike, dancing together, then I’m laying face down on the ground, punching the ground, excited. It’s fun being around those guys.”

But don’t get it twisted — the team the 49ers are facing on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV has a reputation for celebrating, too.

The Chiefs used to get in on it, too

Tyreek Hill does a flip as he celebrates a touchdown against the Houston Texans. (AP)

When the NFL first relaxed the celebration rule in 2017, let’s just say the Kansas City Chiefs fully explored the spaces of their newfound freedom. 

From 2017 to 2018, the Chiefs had a handful of fun, outlandish, choreographed post-touchdown celebrations, ranging from a fake potato sack race to a NASCAR pit stop celebration that fullback Anthony Sherman brainstormed at the last minute. 

“That happened in the locker room before the game,” Sherman said. “I kinda just gave direction and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna do when 10 [Tyreek Hill] scores,’ and it worked out pretty good. To us, we’re playing a game for a living. For us to not have fun is the time that you need to start thinking about hanging it up.”

And the Chiefs continued to have fun, often brainstorming how they’d celebrate touchdowns on the same day the 49ers do.

“We always did the planning on Friday — we would always get together in the end zone and like, come up with something creative,” Hill said.

Fridays were a good day for this, Hill added, because practice is light — there is no hitting — and it’s just a recap of the week. There’s some downtime in practice, and since celebrations tend to help players generate energy — which wins games — Chiefs coaches didn’t actively stifle it.

“Like literally, after the last offensive play, we’d all meet up in the end zone, kinda talk to each other, get our minds right, and kinda be like, ‘Will we do anything cool this week?’” left tackle Eric Fisher explained.

But the type of pre-planned, post-touchdown celebrations that once littered the Chiefs’ highlight reels have been largely absent in 2019. 

Times are changing, but could the future be different?

Oh, the Chiefs scored plenty this year — 451 points in all, fifth in the league — but the overwhelming majority were followed by a group celebration or a dance, which a teammate would often imitate in the moment.

It’s a charge embraced by one of their most enthusiastic celebrators, star tight end and team captain Travis Kelce.

“I think [pre-planned celebrations are] down across the league a little bit,” Kelce said. “I think guys are more worried about getting in the end zone than they are what are we gonna do when they get in the end zone. It’s not always a good look when you’re dancing and stuff and losing. I think we have more of the mentality of, let’s get in the end zone, celebrate with each other and leave the choreographed [stuff] to the background dancers.”

But with the Chiefs and 49ers set to play the biggest game of their lives Sunday, might the Chiefs go back to their old ways? 

Kelce — a showman of the highest order — wouldn’t make any promises.

“Man, if we win the Super Bowl, I’ll break out a few things,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re gonna choreograph anything for you, though.”

As for the 49ers, none would reveal if they’re working on anything special. Like the Chiefs, the overwhelming majority of their celebrations are largely off the cuff.

“I’m not planning anything — I’m gonna focus on the gameplan,” Garland said. “If I see my boys doing something, I might jump in.”

But while the Chiefs and 49ers are clearly too focused on winning to devote much time to celebration practice, it’s safe to say that after a two-week buildup to this game, the chances of a non-choreographed post-touchdown spectacle — with just a slight twinge of thought put in before — could be percolating on both sides. 

“I don’t know, we have some creative minds on this team,” Sherman said, referring to the Chiefs. “So it might happen.”

“I was thinking of doing the worm — backwards,” the 49ers’ Bourne said. “I can do it. I might do it.”

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