Terrell Owens, better known at “T.O.” is among the finalists for 2018 NFL Hall of Fame vote taking place on Saturday. The other finalists being considered besides Owens are Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Edgerrin James, Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins.
Nobody doubts T.O.’s talent as a receiver. He was big target at 6’3” and 226 pounds, physical, had good hands, and when his head was straight, a hard worker. Over his fifteen-year career where he played for San Francisco (8 years), Philadelphia (2 years), Dallas (3 years), Buffalo (1 year) and Cincinnati (1 year), he had solid statistics; with more than 1000 receiving yards in nine of those fifteen seasons, eight seasons with ten or more touchdowns, and all but one season (49.3% in 2008), where his completion percentage was below fifty percent. In addition, Owens was a Pro Bowl selection for five of those fifteen years, a third of his career. To even last fifteen years in the NFL is an amazing feat. Heck, to even keep a job these days for fifteen years is an amazing feat; much less being a starting wide receiver in the world’s most violent sport. And while the numbers don’t lie, they don’t always offer the whole truth either; which is why I am not entirely convinced that T.O. makes it into the Hall of Fame.
I say this simply because most will not recall T.O.’s brilliance nearly as well as they’ll recall his shenanigans. The first thing that crosses my mind when Terrell Owens is mentioned is the game on September 24, 2000, when playing in Dallas, T.O., who was with San Francisco at the time, sprinted out to the iconic star at midfield, arms extended, looking up at God as if He had scheduled appointment to watch him bask in self-aggrandizement after scoring a touchdown. Shortly thereafter, Emmitt Smith, a doubtless Hall of Famer, countered Owens’s antagonism by doing the same thing. Rather than look heavenward, Smith emphatically placed the ball on the star as if to say, “you don’t that in this house, mother&*$#@%.” One would think that would be enough to put such silliness to rest. But no, not T.O. He scored another touchdown. Just a little one-yard garbage time reception with 4:05 remaining the game, but nevertheless, that was enough to go out and repeat what he started before. He was rewarded with getting decked by Dallas safety George Teague. A minor brawl ensued. Teague was ejected. Dallas lost 41-24, and despite scoring two touchdowns the only thing anyone remembers about Owens that day was his immaturity. It was a game, like many others, that served as a microcosm of Owens’s entire career. And if that’s what you remember the most, one has to wonder how much the Football Establishment wants that kind of player enshrined in Canton. Incidentally, another wide receiver on the 49ers quietly scored two touchdowns in that game as well. His name is Jerry Rice.
|"Are you there God? It's me, T.O."|
Even if Terrell Owens played with Jerry Rice’s humility, is he still a Hall of Famer? While there’s no firm definition of what constitutes a Hall of Fame player, there is a general consensus that a Hall of Fame player isn’t just great, but one whose greatness singlehandedly elevates the play of those around him. A player who makes people better through a contagious aura of sheer will. Such players could be flawed. In fact, many of them were. Lawrence Taylor, Charles Haley and Michael Irvin, all somewhat recent Hall of Fame inductees, had their public off-the-field issues. It didn’t matter with those guys though, they knew their play spoke for itself and the extracurricular riff-raff would eventually blow over. If their egos sought the adulation of the fans, the answer was to simply play well. T.O. certainly played well much more often than not, he just couldn’t understand that was enough to get what he so desperately needed. But he also lacked that contagious aura, remaining a loner instead of a leader.
Where it gets interesting is that, unlike Taylor, Haley and Irvin, it’s been well reported, thanks largely by T.O. himself, that Owens has never had any off-the-field incidents. No DUI’s, drug arrests, assaulting of women or killing of dogs. And yet, despite Owen’s self-proclaimed moral turpitude, his compulsion to grab a cheerleader’s pom-poms in front of the TV cameras is far more reprehensible. Yes, Lawrence Taylor drove drunk a lot, but that’s who he was; a badass that drove 120 MPH under the influence. T.O.? He’s just needy. A tormented narcissist whose “bucket” has a perpetual leak. And while Owens may have to answer fewer questions than Lawrence Taylor when they reach the Pearly Gates, in football, a drunk driving badass is still more Hall of Fame worthy than a pathological self-promoter.
T.O. has also never won a Super Bowl. He did play in one in the 2004 season when he was with Philadelphia. A game he’s yet to get over. Though there are plenty of other Hall of Famers who didn’t win Super Bowls either. Guys like Dan Marino or Dan Fouts for instance. The difference, of course, is that Fouts and Marino made their teams perennial playoff contenders with fluctuating levels of talent. This is what the great ones do. Most Hall of Famers usually play for only one or two teams. Owens played for five, essentially collecting a paycheck in his final seasons in Buffalo and Cincinnati the way Rip Torn pays the rent with bit parts in a raunchy comedy. Such players stay because their organization sees their value. They don’t want them to leave, and they can anticipate the slew of vituperative repercussions if they fail to do so. T.O. was jettisoned, repeatedly, for his alienating of teammates and putting vanity ahead of football. How is that Hall of Fame material? In fact, if 2005, Philadelphia suspended Terrell Owens for the final four games of the season, where, in the cruelest of ironies, the NFL’s most attention starved player was upstaged by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in his infamous press conference by responding “next question, next question,” to nearly every inquiry about the matter from the press. It’s about the only thing anyone remembers from that fiasco. He never played for the Eagles again.
|Rosenhaus speaking on T.O.'s behalf: "NEXT QUESTION..."|
T.O. had three respectable years with the Dallas Cowboys after his stint in Philly, but they never got far in the playoffs, if at all. He appeared to enter a more vulnerable stage of his life, making several teary interviews with reporters during that period; seemingly aware that his time was running out and that he had burned lots of bridges. He played two more years after that with the Bills and Bengals.
Owens says that if he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, he doesn’t want to go in as a 49er despite that being where he played in his prime. Going in as, say, a Cowboy, Bill or Bengal would, symbolically at least, erase many of his career’s finest moments. Then again, that is ultimate Terrell Owens conundrum. The harder he tries to make us remember him, the more we actually forget.
|The beautiful simplicity of Terrell Owens just playing football.|