Ezekiel Elliott's hop into the Salvation Army kettle after his second-quarter touchdown in Sunday night's 26-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had everyone on the Dallas Cowboys' end bracing for swift rebuke by the NFL office.
"That bucket's just sitting right there by the end zone. It's only right someone jumps in it," Elliott told reporters in the locker room after the game. "I'm going to match whatever they fine me in a donation to the Salvation Army."
Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones doubled down on that sentiment and dared the league office to do it. "My dream would be for the NFL to really fine me a lot of money, and I'll take them to the Supreme Court, and we'll get the Salvation Army more attention than anybody can get them," Jones told ESPN's Todd Archer. "So let's go."
Clearly, Jones was expecting a fight. The only problem was that, in a seemingly stunning reversal of precedent, the NFL announced Monday morning it would not fine Elliott for the celebration the way they usually do when a celebrator uses a prop or uses a football like a prop.
For example, Denver Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders was fined $12,154 for his post-touchdown celebration last week in which he wound up like a baseball pitcher and threw the football like a fastball. Redskins tight end Vernon Davis was reportedly fined the same amount in October after shooting the football like a jumpshot after scoring a touchdown.
Elliott was flagged for a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty on the play. Using the football as a prop or using other props in celebrations have been made points of emphasis by the League this year, and fines are commonplace in both instances.
But what makes Elliott's situation different was that (a) it happened on Dec. 18 instead of in the month of October and (b) the NFL had already published a light-hearted story about it on its own web site.
Even the NFL wouldn't be so bold as to call Elliott's kettle dive worthy of the "TD Celebration Hall of Fame" and then fine him for it. That would be a new low, but cooler public relations heads prevailed.
But you know who does have a gripe with the NFL's handling of Elliott's holly-jolly kettle hop? Players like Sanders and Davis who have been fined for celebrations just as harmless and far less creative than the Cowboys' running back's self-donation.
The lack of a fine in this instance could be colored as the NFL playing favorites with its darlings of the moment, or with the Dallas Cowboys as a franchise, or simply as the league pulling out all the stops to avoid yet another in a long line of bad PR moments.
You know who you likely won't hear any gripe from, though? The Salvation Army, which has already milked the moment for some well-earned publicity of its own and stands to gain even more during the one season people are forced to pay it attention.
Elliott tweeted that he will still donate to the Salvation Army, even though the NFL won't force him to.
The Salvation Army even took to task an ESPN talking head who grinched on the above tweet, earning a second dose of social media love from all the uproar.
@darrenrovell Our goal is to serve 58 million meals in the U.S. this year. No time to be subtle.— Salvation Army USA (@SalvationArmyUS) December 19, 2016
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