Every Friday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals‘ defense wraps practice with a red-zone drill. On the final play, DC Lou Anarumo throws the ball to one of his players, who returns the interception for a touchdown.
That’s when practice ends, and the fun begins.
The players spend the week scheming ideas for the next turnover celebration, and the end of Friday’s practice is their dress rehearsal.
What they came up with last week was their most thrilling yet.
The Inspiration Behind the Bengals’ ‘Thriller’ Celebration
The brainchild of DT B.J. Hill, the group’s “Thriller” dance actually was on the books a couple of weeks ago. But Hill and fellow DL Cam Sample decided to shelve it until closer to Halloween.
When they broke it out Sunday afternoon in the 31-17 victory against the San Francisco 49ers, it, much like Michael Jackson’s original, drew rave reviews.
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) October 30, 2023
“It’s thought out. It’s a whole deal,” Sample said. “We work on it and have a little mock run, so when it’s time on Sunday, it’s nice and clean.”
Jackson’s “Thriller” video debuted 41 years ago in 1982. No one on the Bengals roster is anywhere close to that age. Still, there are few pop culture phenomena from any era that aren’t available on YouTube, and it’s not as though any of the players were unfamiliar with “Thriller” to the point where they had to look it up.
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“I think everybody knew it,” said CB Mike Hilton, who at 29 years, 235 days is the oldest player on the defense. “Even the young guys should know who Michael Jackson is, and what “Thriller” means.”
Rookie Jordan Battle certainly did.
“The first time I remember seeing it was around six or seven years old,” he said. “I didn’t need a refresher. It’s embroidered in my brain. I’ve done that dance a lot. It’s second nature now.”
The Bengals actually missed their chance to break out the dance after LB Germaine Pratt intercepted San Francisco QB Brock Purdy in the red zone early in the fourth quarter.
The end zone Pratt ran toward was far away, and no one knew right away if the interception would stand.
“The flow of the game was weird with that because they threw a flag on that play, so it kind of messed up running to the end zone to celebrate,” Sample said. “We made up for it, though.”
They did so on their next play when LB Logan Wilson intercepted Purdy near midfield before leading the sprint to the end zone for the dance.
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Players not in the game aren’t allowed to run onto the field to celebrate, but they are allowed to run to the end zone to dance or fake a nap or whatever else the team has cooked up that week, so there were about 15 or 16 guys in the choreographed step.
An unofficial locker room poll had “Thriller” and the “Cha Cha Slide” in dead heat as the group’s favorite thus far.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 26, 2023
Including Sunday when they tied their season-high with three, the Bengals’ defense has come up with multiple turnovers in five of the seven games this season. The group typically only has one celebration planned each week.
“After the first one, it’s freestyle time,” Battle said. “Whoever gets the interception or the turnover, we just follow their lead. Like at the end of the game this week, B.J. just went in the end zone and did flips (somersaults), so we all had to do flips after him.”
Against the Seattle Seahawks, Hilton had the first interception, which conveniently came in the end zone. He spun the ball, and everyone danced around it. A short time later, Taylor-Britt made a diving interception near midfield. After getting tackled, he sprinted to the end zone and feigned taking a nap, with the rest of the defense following his lead.
Nothing is planned yet for next week, but Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen’s 10 giveaways are the third-most in the league, so you can bet the Bengals will be prepared with something.
“We expect to get turnovers every week, so we’ve got to have some pride in what we come up with,” Sample said.
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