Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
Rookie running back David Wilson's backflip celebrations after touchdowns are a big hit with Giants fans and some of his teammates, but it wasn't always that way for the speedy running back. In fact, when he did a flip in the end zone during his senior season at Danville (Va.) High, his coach screamed at him. Then he took Wilson out of the lineup.
"He did it twice in high school, and I benched him after the second one," former Danville High coach Dan Newell said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. "The first time, it was pure joy because we came from behind by 28 points, and he picked up a fumble 40 yards out and ran it back for a touchdown."
Wilson did a front flip as he crossed into the end zone.
"Stuck the landing, too," said Newell, who rather enjoyed the moment.
Not the next time, though.
"The other time he did it, he had it pre-planned for homecoming game in his senior season," said Newell, who now coaches at Averett University in Danville. "There was a coach from Virginia Tech at the game, and it was maybe the first series of the second half. He broke a long one, ran it back and did a [front] flip. I'm not sure he didn't cause me any pains chewing him out in the end zone. He didn't expect to be benched after that."
Newell clearly didn't like Wilson showing up the other team, so he sent an unmistakable message. Wilson's current coach, Tom Coughlin, didn't seem too amused by the backflips Wilson did three times in a 52-27 win over the Saints.
Asked about it Wednesday, Coughlin said, "Next question."
When someone told Coughlin that Wilson said general manager Jerry Reese was concerned about what might happen if Wilson got hurt doing a flip, Coughlin said, "You're not going to get me on that one."
The Giants have not officially instructed Wilson to stop the backflips.
"Nobody asked me to stop," Wilson said. "Reese just told me if I get hurt, then he'll be in my grill."
Defensive end Justin Tuck was more direct about his concerns. He told Wilson to stop doing them. When Tuck said it, Wilson just smiled and walked away.
"We're going to have another talk about not doing it," Tuck said. "Everyone knows how athletic he is, but the last thing we need is him having some freak injury by showing off to the crowd. Let's just keep him upright and running and leave the backflips for YouTube. They're already on YouTube. If people want to see them, they can go to YouTube and see them."
Victor Cruz, who has patented the post-touchdown salsa dance, said he cringes when he sees Wilson do the flips.
"It scares me every time he does it because you never know what can happen," Cruz said. "You don't want to see him get hurt. But the backflip is definitely impressive . . . The salsa and the backflip are two [different] entities."
One guy doesn't seem to mind.
"That means he's scoring touchdowns," Eli Manning said of the backflips. "So that's fine by me."
Wilson says no one should fret over him getting hurt.
"It's a possibility they can go wrong, but for me, I've been doing 'em since I was 3 years old," Wilson said. "Never missed one. It's easy, it's almost like running, for me to jump and turn backwards. I've been doing it for a while, so I think people can relax a little."
Best-case scenario: Wilson scores more touchdowns to provide the answer about whether he'll do the flips or not. And it looks as if he'll have plenty more opportunities to get into the end zone, both as a kickoff returner and tailback. Wilson had 227 yards on four kickoff returns, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Saints. And with Ahmad Bradshaw dealing with a sprained left knee and missing practice Wednesday, Wilson likely will see increased playing time in the running game when the Giants face the Falcons in another virtual must-win situation in Atlanta.
"I always prepare for it that way as if I'll play a lot," Wilson said. "Whenever my number is called I'll be ready."
Oh, and just in case Wilson is concerned his old high school coach might not approve of his backflips, Newell said not to worry.
"I hope he does it more. That's his mark," Newell said. "I texted him the other day and told him my daughter, who grew up a big fan of his in high school, said he isn't getting the same height on his flips the way he used to. David is a great kid, a special player."