Billy Cannon didn’t raise his arm and signal No. 1 as he neared the goalline, 89 yards later, on that Halloween night in 1959.
None of his 1958 teammates on the LSU football team pointed to their ring fingers in the waning moments of the regular-season finale, a 62-0 trashing of Tulane in New Orleans that confirmed those Tigers as national champions.
Now it’s in vogue. Joe Burrow coming off the field in the Superdome with Clemson subdued, pointing jubilantly at his ring finger. Burreaux was already Joe Cool in the eyes not only of LSU fans, but much of college football. It fit. He was kicking off the Natty celebration.
A couple of months ago in Dallas, Angel Reese spends the last seconds of LSU’s dismantling of Iowa pointing jubilantly at her ring finger. The Bayou Barbie long since had established her flamboyant on-court persona, delighting many LSU fans and plenty of avid women’s basketball followers. It fit. She was tipping off the national championship celebration.
Monday night in Omaha, having emphatically said “later, Gator,” Dylan Crews is the first of a series of Tiger teammtes savoring their late-game moments in the spotlight, pointing jubilantly at his ring finger. Crews, like Burrow, had just been annointed the premier player in his sport. Unlike Burrow, Crews has a subtle, blue-collar approach accompanying his prodigious production. His ring thing didn’t fit, but with a double-digit eighth-inning lead, not even Florida fans could protest his exuberance. He was launching the College World Series championship celebration.
Conversely, Reese drew heat from many, including some Purple and Gold loyalists, for her antics. She seemed to go toward Iowa star Caitlin Clark, taunting her in the waning moments of play. Clark later said she took no offense. To do so would have been hypocritical, since the Hawkeye hotshot had done much the same thing several times during the Big Ten season and notably to Louisville star (and now LSU’s own) Hailey Van Lith closing out an NCAA Elite 8 contest.
So in the aftermath of Monday’s grilling of the Gators in Omaha, LSU’s series of stars ringing it up quickly attracted the spotlight. The game’s ESPN telecast immediately referenced Reese, but overlooked Burrow, catching the oversight late in their coverage and in time for Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter show. The recovery surely was spurred by rampant social media posts showcasing Burrow along with Reese and Crews.
Very quickly on social media, the question arose – what’s the difference? Why is nobody objecting that Crews, Tommy White, Tre’ Morgan and more Tiger baseball heroes flashed their ring fingers, and a crescendo of critics rose up to rip Reese?
From some corners, there were undercurrents of racism, and sexism, at play. Reese is an effervescent personality who happens to be a Black woman. Undoubtedly some of the disgust stirred by her activity came from pigheaded people seeing someone of a different appearance doing something brash.
But her celebration was different because it certainly was directed at her opponent, Clark. You can’t get around the fact it was taunting. That’s the part that I didn’t like. The fact that it’s widespread nowadays to confront and mock foes doesn’t justify it.
Celebrate, yes. Be flamboyant, great. But don’t scurry to show up an opponent. Hurry to find a teammate to embrace. That’s how an AARP-eligible dude sees it.
If Reese had ignored Clark and trotted toward teammates pointing at her ring finger, it would be no less an iconic moment in the history of women’s basketball – not only in LSU lore, but for the sport overall.
I didn’t condemn Reese then and will not now. She’s only doing what she sees her heroes doing. She’s only doing what we’ve seen for years in pro wrestling and so much of modern culture outside of athletics. She’s a strong young woman, very smartly building her brand, and bringing in the Benjamins at a rate none of her predecessors in college women’s basketball ever could.
Was it spontaneous, or calculated for cash value? She’ll never tell. After the heat faded, it’s worked way in her favor. Reese’s fan base continues to expand. It should. She’s a special talent, a dynamic figure in her sport, whose persona not only entertains but inspires, and forces us to ponder our perspectives.
That’s not entirely comfortable. If you want to go down that rabbit hole, it’s there for your consideration.
But currently, I’ll just savor the jubilation and salute LSU’s champions. The rings fit.
Contact Doug at email@example.com