http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/19/sport ... .html?_r=0
The Dance That Time Never Forgot
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Most experts agree that Jamal Anderson (32) invented the Dirty Bird and that Coach Dan Reeves did it worse than anyone.
By SAM BORDEN
Published: January 18, 2013
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Much like the 30-something who stumbles upon old pictures of bar mitzvah parties where the Electric Slide was featured, over and over, the former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle has mixed emotions when he recalls the days of the Dirty Bird.
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The Dirty Bird dance is forever linked with the 1998 Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl, even though a few of those players would like to forget it.
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Tight end O.J. Santiago helped popularize the dance with fans.
For the most part, the memories inspire smiles. Tuggle and the 1998 Falcons were the last — and only — Atlanta team to make the Super Bowl, and Tuggle recalls fondly the bonds he formed with that team. Even now, 15 years later, he still lives nearby and plays golf with some of his former teammates.
But in the same way that the members of the band Los Del Rio are, at this point, almost surely worn out by questions about the Macarena, Tuggle said he sometimes could not believe just how deep the Dirty Bird, the Falcons’ old celebratory dance, became embedded in fans’ consciousness. And with the Falcons seeking to return to the Super Bowl when they host San Francisco in Sunday’s N.F.C. championship game, the questions have only increased.
“Almost everywhere I go, people ask me about the Dirty Bird,” Tuggle said. “I mean, everywhere. It’s crazy that that’s what everyone latched on to. It was a dance! But it meant a lot around here.”
Michael Palmer, a reserve tight end for the Falcons, grew up in the area and said he could vividly remember being in middle school and seeing classmates and even teachers breaking into the dance. “I did it — I think everyone did,” he said. “If you didn’t, people kind of just wondered why you weren’t.”
Receiver Harry Douglas, who also grew up in Atlanta, said he recalled a similar fascination at his school and noted that “it’s amazing what people will go with when you’re winning.”
He added: “People have been asking me to do it a lot lately, but I don’t dance in the end zone. That’s not me.”
Running back Jamal Anderson is generally acknowledged as the creator of the dance — Anderson’s current Twitter handle is @JamTheDirtyBird — though tight end O. J. Santiago is credited with helping to popularize it. Anderson has said in interviews that part of his motivation in doing the dance was to attract more attention to the Falcons; fans had been slow to embrace the team even as it was winning regularly.
The dance itself is somewhat robotic, with exaggerated motions that include stomping one’s feet, pumping one’s arms and, in a fitting coda, flapping one’s elbows as if they were wings. Despite its inherent campiness, the dance does have longevity; Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks attempted a version of it after scoring a touchdown against the Falcons in the 2011 playoffs.
Afterward, Nicks said safety Antrel Rolle was the one who told him to do the dance, and he willingly complied. Anderson wrote on Twitter that he wasn’t mad at Nicks for copying him — though he noted that Nicks’s rendition was “a tad sloppy.”
Critical as Anderson might have been, it is hard to imagine anyone disputing that the roughest-looking Dirty Bird was performed by Dan Reeves, the coach of the 1998 team. Reeves missed two games during the season because he had heart surgery, then returned and led the Falcons to the N.F.C. championship. After they beat the Minnesota Vikings in overtime in the conference title game, Reeves obliged his players by doing a choppy version of the dance on the stage where the team received the championship trophy.
“I would say that was the worst version,” Tuggle said, laughing. “It was good that he tried, though.”
Even the players were not immune from criticism when it came to the dance. Tuggle recalled speaking at an elementary school in the off-season after the Falcons lost in the Super Bowl, and having one of the children ask him if he would mind doing a quick Dirty Bird. Tuggle complied but was interrupted after just a few seconds when the child informed him that he was doing it wrong.
“He said, ‘That’s not how Jamal does it!’ ” Tuggle said. “And then he started doing it himself to show me. That was pretty much the last time I agreed to do the Dirty Bird when someone asked me.”
Michael Turner, the Falcons’ current star running back, said he had enjoyed hearing more about the Dirty Bird recently because it reminded him of the franchise’s history. Admittedly, Turner said, there is not much — “we had never had back-to-back winning seasons until we did it,” he said — but adding to what the 1998 team did is something that drives the players.
“We want to make our own mark here,” he said.
Turner laughed, though, when asked about the possibility of a Dirty Bird revival. Tuggle mentioned that he and some of the other former players would be honored if they saw one of the current Falcons break out the dance late Sunday afternoon should they beat the 49ers, but Turner said he did not foresee that happening.
After all, every dance fad — including the Dirty Bird — has its time and place.
“That was then and it was great,” Turner said. “But we are here now and it’s about us doing our own thing.”
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