Terrell Owens: Hall of Famer?

As I do most days, yesterday I tuned in to talk radio for most of the day in my work van. The debate of the day was about recently retired Los Angeles Dodger second baseman Jeff Kent, and whether or not his career had been a Hall of Fame worthy one. It struck me almost instantly how similar the argument over Kent is to the one we will be having eight to ten years from now regarding Terrell Owens.

The similarities between the two are striking. Like Owens, Kent carries with him the reputation of being a clubhouse malcontent. Kent's poor fundamentals are evident in his below average fielding. Owens' poor fundamentals are evident in his less than desirable route running, and his difficulties hanging on to the football. Both men have been tantalizingly close, but neither man has been able to claim a championship in his respective sport. Still, it is more than likely that the legacy that both men leave behind will be defined by their eye-popping, undeniable offensive production. As far as Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame is concerned, there seems to be a set of "magic numbers" (500 home runs, 3,000 hits, 300 wins) that make a player a virtual lock for induction. Though football's Hall is a bit less number crazed, it will be difficult for voters to turn a blind eye to Terrell Owens' statistics when his day comes.

Love him or love to hate him; Terrell Owens has been an absolute monster since first suiting up for the San Francisco 49ers in 1996. To this point in his 13 year career, T.O. has racked up nine 1,000 yard seasons. He has six times been a Pro Bowler, and five times a First Team All-Pro, in an era that has seen more prolific wide receivers than any other in NFL history.

If Terrell Owens retired today, he would be sixth in NFL history in receptions. His 14,122 receiving yards rank him fifth all-time. With 822 yards next season, he can climb into third or even second place, depending on a still active Marvin Harrison, who is currently 458 yards ahead of Owens. T.O.'s 139 touchdown receptions are second only to the great Jerry Rice. His 141 total touchdowns have him tied with LaDainian Tomlinson for fourth place all-time behind Rice and Emmitt Smith. Both should breeze by Marcus Allen's 145 total TD's next season. For those scoring at home that's 6th all-time in receptions, 5th in receiving yards, 2nd in receiving touchdowns, and 4th in total touchdowns.

It is a bit early to judge Owens' body of work since it is not yet complete, so I took the liberty of doing some projections. I am taking into consideration the fact that Terrell is 35 years old, so his years are limited, and his production should begin to dip. For the sake of the argument, I projected out Owens numbers over three more seasons, at 70% of his average career production. Even assuming that Terrell Owens can only squeeze out 3 more seasons, at a 70% clip, his legacy would read like this:

Terrell Owens, 6-time Pro Bowler, 5-time First Team All-Pro. 1,104 career receptions, 16,403 receiving yards, 163 touchdowns. NFL record holder for receptions in a single game (20, December 17, 2000.)

Those numbers are hard to deny, even with all of T.O.'s locker room transgressions. Owens' numbers are even rock solid when contrasted against those considered the best to ever play the position. Consistency is a key attribute for a Hall of Fame player. It is my belief that one of the best ways to measure a player's career production is to examine what a player gives his team on a year to year basis. This is how Terrell Owens' average season stacks up against current and future Hall of Famers of the modern era.

 

AVG Rec.

AVG Yards

AVG TD

Randy Moss

76.6

1200

12.3

Marvin Harrison

84.8

1121

9.8

Jerry Rice

73.8

1090

9.4

Terrell Owens

73.2

1086

10.7

Michael Irvin

62.5

992

5.4

Steve Largent

58.5

934

7.1

Cris Carter

68.8

869

8.1

Art Monk

58.8

795

4.3

Charlie Joiner

41.6

674

3.6

Lynn Swann

37.3

606

5.6

Even among the game's all-time greats, Owens does more than hold his own. The scary thing is that Owens may have left his best season on the field. In 2005 with Philadelphia, Owens had 47 receptions for 763 yards and seven touchdowns through seven games. He was on pace to dwarf all of his statistical career highs, but his unwillingness to fall in line led to a mid-season deactivation by coach Andy Reid. Once again, the bright shining star that is Terrell Owens was dimmed by his own selfish actions.

The question is, what will play a bigger role in the minds of Hall of Fame voters eight to ten years from now? Will voters make try to make a statement about the importance of the team concept, and deny a player entry whose on field play was certainly worthy of Hall of Fame membership? Or will voters succumb to the allure of Owens' undeniable numbers, and open the doors of pro football's most sacred club to a player who was considered a cancer for the better part of his career? When Terrell Owens stands before the Football Gods on his judgment day, will he be remembered for the game winning catch in that 1998 NFC Divisional game, or his heroic performance in Super Bowl 39? Or will he be forever remembered as the man who is believed to have single handedly torn apart the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and quite possibly the Dallas Cowboys?

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