Suspensions would stop showoffs

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Joe ''Blow My Own'' Horn took touchdown celebrations to the cellular level, proving once again that talent is no measure of taste.

Horn's tacky little stunt of hiding a cell phone in the goal post padding to call home after the second of his four TD catches in New Orleans' rout of the New York Giants on Sunday undoubtedly will cost him a fine from the NFL.

Not that he cares.

His ego and his bank account are bigger than any fine.

''It might cost me $10,000 or $15,000, but it was worth it,'' Horn said.

Sure it was worth it. Horn bought more publicity good or bad, he doesn't much care in those few seconds with his nationally televised call than most players get all season. Maybe he'll even get a cell phone endorsement out of it.

''This game is all about excitement,'' Horn said. ''I thought I'd probably get fined for it. I think it's ridiculous, but we should give the fans what they want, what they pay their hard-earned money for, and that's excitement.

''Would I take it back? No, no. I knew exactly what I was doing.''

Horn argued that he wasn't taunting the Giants though the officials hit the Saints with a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff. He said he wasn't trying to start a fight and didn't throw the ball in the stands to precipitate a scramble.

''I had told my kids to be at home, watching the game, and I told my momma, 'Mom, if I score the second one, I'm going to get my cell phone out,'' Horn said.

Horn could just as well have called his mom from the sideline, but he loves showing off for the crowds and drawing attention to himself.

After scoring against Atlanta on Oct. 19, Horn pretended to machine-gun two teammates, who dropped to the ground in the end zone. That drew a tongue-lashing from coach Jim Haslett, just as Sunday's gag did.

At least Horn wasn't quite as crass as San Francisco's Terrell Owens, who pulled a pen from his sock after scoring a TD against Seattle last year, signed the ball and handed it to his financial consultant seated nearby.

''I was dancing. I was celebrating,'' Horn said.

Old standards of sportsmanship have been dying for a long time. Ages ago it was considered cool for a player scoring a touchdown to flip the ball nonchalantly to the ground and run, head down, off the field. Then came ball spins and other tricks, dancing, prancing and in-your-face taunting. The sublime, indeed, had turned ridiculous.

After the Owens incident, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue sent a memo around the league clarifying that if a player has objects that are not part of the uniform on the field or sideline he will be given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Everyone knew it also would mean a fine, something Owens escaped because no one had anticipated a player being quite so boorish.

At least Owens was somewhat original. Horn's lack of judgment was matched by his lack of imagination. Now if he had called somewhere unusual the White House, perhaps, to let the president congratulate him that would have been amusing and an even bigger ego feed.

Haslett wasn't happy, especially about the kickoff penalty when the Saints led only 17-7 in the second quarter, but said he's not about to discipline his star receiver.

''The league will do that,'' Haslett said. ''The thing that bothered me more than anything is he put himself before the football team. To me that's selfish. He's selfish. He shouldn't do that.''

Now the matter is in the hands of the NFL's chief of game operations, who is studying the tape and the officials' report and considering what level of fine is appropriate.

Horn may be in the ballpark in expecting a fine of up to $15,000, and if that doesn't bother him, why should it bother any other similarly narcissistic player with a fat bankroll? And why should it bother any fan or anyone else?

Surely it was only a harmless prank in a 45-7 laugher, not worth getting all lathered up about. Except that if Horn gets away with a small slap to his wallet, the message to other players is that it's OK to pull a similar caper. Players will be competing to see who can act like the biggest jerk.

Fans have a stake in it because this kind of stuff doesn't enhance games, it diminishes them. When sportsmanship goes, the sport is cheapened.

The way to end the nonsense is to skip a fine and suspend Horn for a game.

How big a grin do you think Horn would be flashing if he were sidelined next Sunday against Jacksonville with the 7-7 Saints' playoff hopes on the line?

Sitting a star like Horn, or any starter, would affect the whole team and the outcome of the game.

Maybe a suspension is too stiff a penalty for a rather innocent joke. But there's no more certain way to get everyone's attention and make sure the last laugh is on Horn.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org



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