Dancing With the Stars: Was It All Worth It?
As I’m sure you all realize by now, Antonio Brown was eliminated in the semi-finals, although he will also be dancing in tonight’s coronation, I suppose you could call it. But Hines Ward did make the finals, so first I’ll cover that, and then talk about the outcomes. We know the outcome for Hines—the outcome for Antonio Brown is baseless speculation at this point. But that’s never stopped me before.
In Week 10 the remaining three couples battled for the last time. They were assigned three dances—a judges’ choice, a freestyle, and a repeat of their favorite dance from the season. The judges’ choice dance was a dance from earlier in the season which needed substantial improvement, and they chose the Quickstep for Hines and Kym. It was their Week Two dance, and while it was a huge hit with the audience, judge Len Goodman said “I couldn’t bear to watch his feet.”
The problem was related to one of the conventions of ballroom dancing. In a way, you could compare it to football. There are a lot of ways you can get a ball into the end zone, but not all of them are going to result in a touchdown because everyone involved in the play has to stay within the rules. Dance instructor Andrew Pueschel explained it isn’t just a matter of getting your feet in the right place at the right time—they have to be in the right position as well. As he explained, the legs always have to be extended, with the toes pointed toward the floor, which, like so much of dance, is highly counterintuitive.
If this doesn’t sound particularly difficult, try running across the floor, fast, in time to a song, while pointing your toes straight down. Oh, and don’t forget to look straight ahead while you’re at it, keeping your back straight and your arms in the “frame.”
They didn’t exactly copy the previous routine, but it was a hit with both the audience and the judges.
The freestyle is the most-anticipated dance of the season on DWTS. Although the other dances aren’t usually “strictly ballroom,” they do have to contain enough of the expected moves from the assigned dance to keep Len Goodman, the ballroom purist, happy. (You may recall Antonio’s cha cha earlier in the competition was popular with the audience and dissed by the judges, because there weren’t enough cha cha moves in it.)
In the freestyle, conversely, anything goes, and lifts are not only allowed but expected. The competitors hope to make DWTS history with a memorable freestyle. In this case Hines’ partner Kym Johnson choreographed a “halftime show”, complete with black and gold everything.
Finally, the couple reprised their samba from Week 3, and Goodman gave a terrific accolade:
“I think you are the MVP of Season 12. You have brought nothing but consistency and focus…You dance with heart, and it shows.”
A few minutes later, Ward lofted what is possibly the most hideous trophy in competitive athletics. During the 10 week course of the competition, as judge Bruno Tonioli summed up the new fan base Hines generated during the competition: “When you’re out here, I tell you, we all fall in love. We do. Mr. Irresistible.”
Hines brought the Mirror Ball trophy to Pittsburgh, but what he couldn’t bring to Pittsburgh, despite the grueling physical training dancing at this level represents, was a 2002 version of himself, his best statistical season, or even a 2009 version. No one can fool Mother Nature, as the old commercial declared, and although Hines brought a lot to the field that didn’t require a lot of speed—something he never really had—by 2011 he was definitely fading into the sunset.
Antonio Brown, on the other hand, appears to be coming into his peak years. Just as Ward did at a similar point in his career , there is little reason to think that, barring catastrophic injury, Brown won’t continue to put up excellent numbers in the coming years. Although Brown’s game is based on speed in a way Ward’s never was, and speed can start degrading quickly, so much of what makes Brown amazing is the minute attention to detail. I expect that even as the speed starts to go he will still find ways to be very productive.
If you haven’t seen it before, do check out this video, part of the ESPN Sport Science series. In the video they test the precision of his routes by making him run a curl route blindfolded. He ends up in essentially the same place, and runs almost exactly the same path, as when he ran it the normal way.
Because his modus operandi seems to be great precision and minute attention to detail I was very surprised he didn’t appear to be applying this to his dancing, or not in the same way. The conclusion to which I came, correctly or not, is that it wasn’t important to him in the same way football is. Yes, he wants to win, and when he started facing elimination despite the best efforts of his fan base he definitely stepped it up in terms of his focus and preparation. But realistically, to have a really good chance to win the competition he would have needed to “step it up” right from the first.
How much of my conclusion is based on what the video editors wanted us to see, as opposed to what really happened, is an open question. But at least as presented, Antonio didn’t have the same fire for this competition that he clearly has for Steelers football.
And frankly, that’s great news for Steeler Nation. I think he would have been more than happy to take home the trophy, but in the end he cares so much more about football that he showed up to non-mandatory offseason workouts in the week leading up to the semi-finals. I’m guessing his dance partner thought he was crazy.
Will the dancing help him in football? It’s certainly possible the dance training has given him some insights and will allow him to make a few tweaks to his game. It isn’t unprecedented for players to take dance as a way to improve. Lynn Swann did ballet. Rashard Mendenhall took hip-hop classes. But it unlikely any of this is an improvement on Antonio Brown’s old-fashioned work ethic—repeat an action correctly so many times that you can do it in your sleep—or blindfolded.
Admittedly, there is one area of his game in which I’m looking for improvement, an area in which the dance training might just be what he needed. I’m hoping it allows him to come up with a better endzone dance. Because I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of it this season, and I’m hoping he will do Sharna proud.