There's been a lot of flack this week about the Patriots 'disrespecting' the Chargers in their post-game celebration (more in the video here). I think that the Pats were overly exuberent, but this doesn't come out of thin air. The taunting and celebration in football has escalated over the years.
I remember Billy "White Shoes" Johnson from the Houston Oilers in the 1970s. He was one of the first to do the touchdown dance in football. In recent years, this has escalated with the Joe Horn cell phone incident and the many antics of Terrell Owens. TO's "The Bird" dance was mocked by the Patriots at the end of Super Bowl XXXIX, so the Pats have a history of reacting to this type of thing.
In the Chargers game last weekend, there was a lot of build-up. Thanks to the ProJo PatsBlog, I found this video of Shawne Merriman leading a crowd in chanting "Brady Sucks" at a pre-game rally in San Diego. Also, Merriman vowed that he was going to "punch Brady in the mouth" during the game. Shawne is known for his Lights Out dance, which the Patriots mocked in the post-game. Of course, if Merriman didn't run off at the mouth and do this dance after every sack (or even QB knock-down), there would be nothing to mock. Once this kind of activity gets started, the actors can't complain about the reactors. In the end, the Patriots neutralized Merriman (2 tackles, 1 sack). He didn't do much in the second half when the Patriots passed on almost every down.
I'd prefer it if all the players toned down the celebration in the style of Barry Sanders. He was known for just handing the ball to the official after a touchdown. No spike, no dance. I remember hearing Barry quoted as saying something like "act like you've been there and plan on being there again." Ideally, the Pats should have done this on Sunday, but who can blame someone for reacting after such a hard fought victory? The Patriots reaction came when the game was over, not during the game (such antics and over-aggressiveness cost the Chargers dearly).
I think that NFL fans, in general, like the celebration as it adds to the excitement. It also seems to create a rivalry, as I expect that the Chargers will be looking for payback the next time they play the Patriots.
Note that these antics haven't taken place in Patriots-Colts games as far as I can remember. Neither team starts it, and therefore neither team reacts. Both teams have a lot of respect for the other. Even though the series has tilted to the Patriots overall, the Colts have won the last two meetings. I look forward to another great game on Sunday.