Missing the flamboyant wide receiver


Victor Gonzalez still enjoys watching the NFL on TV, but he misses the days of the flamboyant wide receiver.

As a kid growing up in Florida 10 years ago, Gonzalez watched the sideline and end-zone antics of Terrell Owens, Joe Horn and Chad Johnson.

He loved when the players jumped into the crowd to eat popcorn, show off a T-shirt underneath their jersey or even pull pranks on teammates and opponents.

In fact, Gonzalez loved Johnson so much that he Tweeted him every day. And, a year ago, Gonzalez was flown to New England by his idol, Johnson, to watch a playoff game against the Denver Broncos.

"He really was one of the first people I followed on Twitter, because I wanted to keep up with all his wild antics," Gonzalez said. "He was so fun to watch. He knew it was a job, but he was having fun doing it."

So Johnson flew Gonzalez from Florida to Boston for the game, put him up in a hotel next to the stadium, and gave him spending money for a shopping spree.

Those are nice perks for the fan, but that's not the reason Gonzalez loved Johnson and those other flamboyant wide receivers.

"They all look like one of the guys that I could relate to. They understand that it's just a game," said Gonzalez, who has had occasional conversations with Johnson since. "I like seeing people having fun. Today's game is so serious."

The top receivers today -- Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker -- all are by-the-book players who don't show much reaction. Only New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz (who would perform the salsa) and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (who would give a hard spike) show overly noticeable emotion when they score.

Horn, who as a member of the Saints in 2003 pulled a cell phone from underneath a goal-post padding after scoring his second of four touchdowns against the New York Giants, has an idea why wide receivers aren't as flamboyant today.

"It's because of the ungodly insane commissioner we have," said Horn, who was fined $30,000 and given a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on that play in 2003. "It's turned into a boring league. Guys are walking on thin ice not knowing what to do because he'll take their paycheck."

Horn, who played 12 seasons and is in the Saints' hall of fame, said if he had pulled that stunt today, he knows what probably would have happened.

"He'd likely suspend me for a year. It's sad, man. It's his way or no way," said Horn, who finished his career with more than 8,000 receiving yards and 50 touchdowns "We could talk about this for two hours but that's how it is. The players won't admit to this because they don't want to get fined."

The NFL wouldn't comment on Horn's claims but said commissioner Roger Goodell isn't in the business of stifling fun in the league. The NFL has safeguards in place, and Merton Hanks -- the NFL's director of football operations -- reviews each play. He looks for rules violations and the plays that result in fines.

The NFL also said the commissioner has been friendly with several of the past flamboyant receivers, including Chad Johnson.

Both Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens are currently out of the NFL, with Johnson being cut by the Dolphins during the preseason in a moment captured on the HBO series "Hard Knocks." Owens, released by the Seahawks in August, tweeted during the Jets' Monday night loss to the Texans on Oct. 8 "Hey JETS!!! I'm available! I'm ready, willing & able! Call my agent @jordanwoy & let's make it happen." But the Jets and the rest of the league passed.

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young doesn't blame the commissioner for the dwindling numbers of flamboyant wide receivers.

"Today's NFL receivers see that there wasn't much success with all those antics," Young said. "It's all about focusing on hard work and skills and focusing on the team. That's what has proven to be successful in today's NFL."

And Young said that probably won't change in the next several years.

"It's all about imitation. And in college, players will imitate what they see that is working to get to the next level," Young said. "So I think that era is over. And it likely won't be back. It didn't work before and it won't work again."

Owens, Johnson and Horn were successful as individuals, but their teams didn't win the Super Bowl.

Owens (@TerrellOwens) already had earned his reputation for showboating when he celebrated on the midfield star at the old Texas Stadium in 2000 during his fifth season with the 49ers, eventually triggering a melee. Owens backed up his antics with Hall of Fame numbers, catching 153 touchdowns and totaling 15,934 yards receiving for five teams over 16 seasons.

This "Can't be Touched - Chad Johnson" highlight re-mix video from 2007 has more than 2.535 million YouTube views, or about 37,835 views for each of his 67 career touchdowns. And Johnson had already elected himself to the Hall of Fame on opening day of the 2007 regular season.

When Owens and Johnson (@Ochocinco) teamed up for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, DJ Steve Porter combined their antics in this "Popcorn Ready" remix, which was featured on ESPN and had more than 535,000 YouTube views.

Hall of Fame coach Don Shula said he doesn't blame the players for their frivolity on the sideline and in the end zone. He thinks it's as simple as having too much media involved in the sport.

"It's everywhere. Before the game. In the locker room. After the game. Even in the huddle. You can't get away from it," Shula said. "No wonder the players act the way they do. They want to look good to their fans."

Jerry Rice, who caught 85 of his NFL-record 197 touchdown receptions from Young, said he never did approve of any of those antics and not just when it came to wide receivers. It's people reacting to first downs or sacks.

"I think players today need to act like they've been there before. I don't think they need to do all those things because it doesn't necessarily help the team," Rice said. "All that hootin' and hollerin' does nothing for your team."

And when it comes to the flamboyant wide receivers, Rice remembers the great advice he received from "Dancing with the Stars" judge Len Goodman.

"He'd say, 'Jerry, you don't need no stinking props!' And he's right," Rice said. "You don't need props to dance well, and you don't need props to play football well."