PITTSBURGH — Apparently hide-and-seek, dice game, Dragon Ball Z Kamehameha, bench press and chaining the bike were a mere warmup act for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ arsenal of end-zone celebrations.
That’s according to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s got a master list of ideas on his iPhone.
The league has officially upped the ante on touchdown celebrations, fueled by spirited efforts such as the Chiefs’ potato-sack race, the Vikings’ duck-duck-goose game and the Eagles’ baseball brawl.
But the Steelers have set an elaborate tone, ranking 20th in scoring offense but first in celebration offense.
If the scoring improves, Pittsburgh is ready to perform on cue.
“The fact we’ve got an opportunity to celebrate it, we’ll take full advantage,” running back Le’Veon Bell said. “We bounce ideas off each other and come up with the best celebrations.”
Here’s how it works: Bell and Smith-Schuster each keep a list of their favorite celebrations in the notes section of their iPhones. The two started these lists after the success of the hide-and-seek routine in Week 6, which was spontaneously agreed upon coming out of the Heinz Field tunnel.
But players will typically brainstorm the ideas on Fridays in the locker room. The Steelers want to incorporate teammates, so Bell and Smith-Schuster and others will let, say, the offensive linemen know about the plan and hope they join when the touchdown happens.
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Antonio Brown, known as one of the league’s most trustworthy celebrators, is involved in the brainstorming sessions but is sort of a godfather figure who doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting.
Brown appeared to have a corporate deal with the Destiny 2 video game for a specific, dancehall-type touchdown celebration. As a result, his touchdowns have been less collaborative.
But Brown all but outlined a season’s worth of celebration work on NFL Live this offseason, citing everything from hop-scotch to falling asleep in the end zone.
Smith-Schuster, the league’s youngest player, has taken that inspiration to new levels. He has urged everyone on the offense to join in on the celebrations, even the quarterback.
“This is how I can relate to the fans,” Smith-Schuster said. “Me being a 20-year-old, the fact the NFL is allowing us to celebrate is the best thing ever. Now that you can do with teammates … everyone wins.”
The mechanics of how these ideas come to life are simple enough. The players agree on an idea, maybe rehearse briefly and let the rest happen organically. With hide-and-seek in Week 7, Bell quickly realized Smith-Schuster would execute the idea after the score, so he sprinted to the goalpost and was “holding my fingers and telling [the crowd]to ‘shhh, shhh,’ like I was really hiding.”
The bench press a week later in Detroit required at least six people for proper execution: Bell, Smith-Schuster, Brown and three linemen.
Guard David DeCastro said the offense discussed the celebration for about 5 minutes on that Friday. The Steelers avoid overplaying on purpose. Bell wants to make sure the routines don’t feel rehearsed.
“We kind of just freak it when we get out there,” Bell said. “It just kind of comes. We knew JuJu was going to be the bench, and then you can kind of see me talking to AB like we kind of just freak it. They were all cheering me on, so I get this last rep in.”
A few players have said the next celebration will be pretty impressive if the Steelers commit to doing it, though Smith-Schuster probably won’t get everything he wants.
“If we could get Ben [Roethlisberger] involved,” said Smith-Schuster. He said he offered his paycheck if Big Ben joins the fun, which won’t happen.