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The end zone as a celebration zone.

Dancing by the stars an evolving show in NFL

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It started with a dare.

It sparked a revolution.

William Arthur Johnson, a slight sophomore receiver in 1971 at Widener College in Chester, liked soul singer Rufus Thomas' popular dance of the day, the Funky Chicken. Feeling disrespected by rival Drexel in the week leading up to their showdown, Johnson was goaded into claiming that if he scored against the Dragons, he would do something unheard of at the time - he would dance after his touchdown.

"I was just having fun when I said that," Johnson said with a giggle, 36 years later. "But I knew if I scored, I had to stay true to my word."

Having crossed the goal line, he went to a corner of the end zone and his legs turned to jelly, his knees buckled, and they swayed to and fro as he held the football aloft to back up his boast. William Arthur Johnson was gone. In his place danced Billy "White Shoes" Johnson. And football has not been the same since.

From the White Shoes Wiggle to the Fun Bunch to the Ickey Shuffle to Terrell Owens' preening on the Dallas Cowboys' midfield star to Chad Johnson's Riverdance - seminal moments all - the evolution of the touchdown celebration has been equally lauded and loathed while becoming part of the NFL fabric.

And though "White Shoes" Johnson was not the first to celebrate a score with a prolonged routine or dance in the NFL - football historians and Johnson himself credit Kansas City's Elmo Wright for high-stepping into the end zone in the early 1970s, just before Johnson's arrival in the league - it was Johnson's good-natured histrionics that took things to the next level and inspired following generations to become more elaborate.

Call "White Shoes" the Godfather of the touchdown celebration.

"If it's a good thing, I'll take the honor," Johnson, now the Atlanta Falcons' assistant strength and conditioning coach, said with a hearty laugh. "If it's a bad thing, I'll pass it on to someone else."

Too late.

"Oh, yeah, I got mine from Billy 'White Shoes,' " said Ickey Woods, author of the side-to-side and eponymous shuffle. "It was all about getting the crowd involved."

So much so that Woods said he purposely performed his routine only at home games, in front of Cincinnati Bengals fans.

"I wasn't trying to show anyone up; I was just trying to get the fans involved," said Woods, who now runs a youth foundation for inner-city children and is owner and coach of the Cincinnati Sizzle of the National Women's Football Association.

"A lot of the celebrations today are just me-me, instead of the team thing," he said. "Guys are just trying to outdo guys."

If "White Shoes" is the Godfather, "The Ickster" is his consigliere. Still, the performances of Johnson and Woods would be considered tame by today's choreographers in cleats.

Chad Johnson, he of Riverdance fame or infamy, depending on your perspective, budgets money for fines he will incur for his wildly creative celebrations, which have included a faux marriage proposal to a cheerleader, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a football, and paying homage to Tiger Woods, using a pylon as a putter on a pigskin.

The Bengals receiver has heard from critics.

"I don't know what it is about them, but they need to know this is a new era," the self-proclaimed "Ocho Cinco" (85) told reporters after his 2005 Lord of the Dance take. "The old times are gone and this is how it's going to be, so enjoy it."

With the San Francisco 49ers, Owens delighted many a Cowboys-hater while making himself the most despised man in Dallas this side of Lee Harvey Oswald, at least until he signed there, with his star stomp.

It has made the so-called Sharpie incident, in which he pulled a pen from his sock after a score, signed the ball, and gave it to a friend in the stands; his dance mocking Ray Lewis; and his using a cheerleader's pom-poms tame by comparison.

"Everybody always thinks that I'm being disrespectful," Owens told the San Francisco Chronicle after the 2002 Sharpie incident. "Anything that I do, people will try to make me the bad guy. I'm just trying to have fun. I'm just trying to be creative."

Seen as both creative geniuses and showboating grandstanders, the showmen of the gridiron believe that the NFL has targeted them unfairly, with the league cracking down on what it deems excessive celebrations.

A year ago, the owners voted by 29-3 in favor of stricter guidelines. The only hard-and-fast rule, though, is no props.

"Touchdown celebrations are a popular and appropriate part of the game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail. "But there is a line that has to be drawn between celebrating and taunting. Taunting an opponent is against the rules because it demonstrates poor sportsmanship and can instigate retaliation, including fighting."