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Tigers' touchdown celebration has complex history

The handshake players give each other after scoring is a straight-forward gesture and a reflection of a "team-first" mentality. How it came into existence is a lot tougher to explain.
Thursday, October 9, 2008 | 8:02 p.m. CDT; updated 12:25 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 11, 2008
Chase Daniel congratulates wide receiver Jared Perry after throwing a touchdown pass during Missouri’s 69-17 win against Nevada on Sept 13. The gesture is meant to reflect the TIgers’ “team-first” mentality, players said.

COLUMBIA - Derrick Washington had just delivered the knockout punch. Nebraska's over-80,000-strong, already placid, quickly went silent while a tiny pocket of black-and-gold celebrated, wondering if they ever thought they'd see the Tigers take a 38-10 lead in Huskerland.

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Back in the end zone, Washington stood up, looked senior receiver Tommy Saunders in the eye, and shook his hand in a gesture that's become a trademark one of the nation's elite offenses.

"It shows class; scoring is like a business transaction," Saunders said. "We're saying, ‘Good job, but hey, we've still got work to do.'"

And the handshake spread. After any Missouri score, fans in the Tigers' student section can be seen imitating the tradition. The practice began during fall camp in 2007, but its origins are murkier than the muddy Mississippi, whose banks hosted the handshake's debut in St. Louis over a year ago.

"I think we all came up with it," junior wide receiver Jared Perry said. "We started it last year, (former receiver) Will Franklin and the rest of us, we all came up with it."

Nice try. Ask around, and it doesn't take long to debunk that myth.

Saunders told sophomore receiver Jeremy Maclin about the plan during camp last season, but even Maclin can't help solve the mystery.

"I don't know whose idea it was," he said. "A lot of guys might try to take credit for it."

Apparently.

Last season, Martin Rucker and Tony Temple championed the habit harder than anyone. But in 2008, that duty has gone to Saunders.

"After my first touchdown on that screen (against Nebraska), he was the first guy there to shake my hand," Washington said.

On a team coached by a guy who can't stop stressing the "team mentality," the celebration is a perfect manifestation of an ideal that players rarely make it through a practice without hearing about.

"There's no need to celebrate and make a big show out there. It just shows that we're a team, and we carry ourselves well," tight end Chase Coffman said. "I think it was Tommy Saunders that started it, though."

Keyword: "Thinks." Like any good 21st century mystery, the most natural place for clues can only be reached with the click of a mouse.

Olmissouri.com, a Web site devoted solely to Missouri football, posted a video story for the site on YouTube in 2007 about the emerging phenomenon.

"Nope, it wasn't me," Rucker said in the video, when asked if he was the architect. "I think it was Tommy Saunders."

An All-American tight end in 2007, Rucker was the handshake's most zealous supporter, making sure everyone on the field made the necessary effort to celebrate as a team.

"Everybody was doing the same thing, either jumping on each other, or jumping up and doing the hip bump," said Rucker ,who now plays for the Cleveland Browns. "The handshake was just something we could call our own. It's so simple, but yet nobody's ever thought about it. At the same time though, it's cool."

Rucker says despite his personal feelings on the celebration, it might be awhile before anyone in the NFL drafts the routine.

"I got to get some more playing time before that happens," Rucker said. "I gotta get some more stripes under my belt, get healthy and all that stuff. It's definitely something I've thought about, but at the same time, this thing might just be Mizzou."

Although most of the evidence points to Saunders as the mastermind, later in the YouTube clip, a confident Tony Temple disagrees.

"I'm gonna take credit for it because I'm the one who told everybody I think we should do it," Temple said, further complicating the already convoluted whodunit. "Everybody was celebrating, but usually, I'm blocking and chop blocking so I can't run down there and celebrate."

18th century philosopher David Hume once said, "Truth springs from argument amongst friends."

"It came from captain Jason Ray two summers ago," Saunders said, deflecting notions that the handshake was his idea. "He came up with it, we started practicing it, and told guys about it until Rucker took the credit, and Temple took the credit. But it came from Jason Ray."

Suddenly, the handshake's hazy beginnings become a bit less cloudy.

A team co-captain in 2007, Ray now works for the Tiger Scholarship Fund, and recently was contracted by Fox Sports Net to provide color commentary for the Tigers' matchup against Southeast Missouri State.

"I saw that story on YouTube, and I was a little upset my name wasn't mentioned," Ray said. "I personally feel that I started the whole handshake deal."

How the idea came to him, though, is its own story altogether.

"Last year, around two-a-days, I had a dream," Ray said. "Tony Temple was running for a long touchdown, and he and I were running together to the end zone. Afterwards, we shook hands. The next day in practice, I was like, ‘Temp, man, I had a dream, and I think we should just shake hands after we score. It's business out here.' The exchange from the quarterback to the running back, or the quarterback to the receiver, it's just like a business transaction."

Temple was one of a select few to hear about Ray's vision.

"I had no idea it was that in-depth and that there was that much history and that much of a story to the handshake," Rucker said. "That's pretty humorous, I think."

Now, in his first season away from the program, the man behind the handshake can only sit back and smile.

"I saw them do it at Nebraska," Ray said. "That really made me proud, that something we came up with as seniors last year is still being carried on."

What originally started as a way to lighten up the unrelenting heat and repetition of August camp, has now blossomed.

"Man, during camp, football is just on your mind so much, you even dream about it every night, obviously," Ray said. "I thought it might get some attention in a positive way, maybe from ESPN or something random like that because it's a unique, fun thing."

But the overarching question lingers: How did a story so clear-cut become so blurred in such a short time?

"I might have mentioned it in the receiver room," Ray said. "So it was kind of a collective effort by the receivers getting it started, but once we did that, everybody, including the linemen, kind of embraced it."

Ray, who says Rucker is his doppelganger, thinks the confusion might also stem from a simple case of mistaken identity.

"A lot of people might say this guy or that guy came up with it," Ray said. "But, bottom line, they didn't. I came up with the original idea."

The idea has been one that's given the Tigers an identity. Whether they're playing in Columbia, Kansas City, Dallas, or maybe even Miami, Tiger fans everywhere can point to one simple gesture that separates their team from the other 118 in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"I heard some friends were hosting a watch party for a game last year, and whenever we scored, the people were giving each other high fives," Ray said.

"The people hosting it, though, were like, ‘No, no, the Tigers shake hands. We shake hands.'"

 


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