After I went to the Terrell Owens book signing here in Atlanta, some of you guys asked my opinion of the book. I finished reading it last night, and below I've written my book review. For those of you tired of hearing about Owens or are tired of me writing about him, feel free to skip this post.
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Terrell Owens new book T.O. is a quick read. It's written in a first-person narrative and from my view it appears that most of it actually came from Owens' brain. Jason Rosenhaus actually wrote the words, but the thoughts are definitely Owens' own. It is fairly entertaining in getting a view of what happened in Philly, and as a view into life in the NFL. Don't expect to find anything that's really news, most of what's covered has already been covered in the media, Owens admits as much in the book. But you do get insight into Owens, sometimes to his own detriment.
The book starts out covering Terrell's life growing up, and this part of the book is particularly instructive into what makes Owens the kind of person he is today. He recounts growing up as a skinny, awkward kid with few friends, an overly-strict grandmother, and the object of bullies everywhere. He is tormented regularly by other kids and is beaten up on a regular basis. One day he decides enough is enough, especially after a story where he fell asleep on the school bus with his mouth open, and another kid spits in his mouth. Owens was in such a deep sleep, he didn't even wake up and only found out about it after the other kids told him and laughed at him. This episode has stuck with Owens all these years, so much so that he still gets nauseated just thinking about it.
One day as he is walking down the street a bully starts to chase him and he starts to run away. Something happened though that made him turn around, pick up a brick and chase the bully. This episode is a revelation to Owens, as he chases off the bully, goes home with the brick still in his hand and tells his grandmother and mother about it. They laud him for finally standing up for himself, and from that day on he vows to never back down again. He hits the weight room and starts to build his body, leading him from a skinny, awkward kid to an NFL superstar.
Now you know the genesis of his prickly personality. Owens has taken those moments from his childhood and created a code he will live by for the rest of his life, to never back down. Pride is a word he uses over and over again in the book, but pride is a double-edged sword. Most of us growing up have had some episodes of bullying or embarrassment, and sometimes as a kid this leads to physical confrontation. But as we grow older, most of us get past the need to physically act out on these embarrassments and Owens has done that, too. But most of us also understand that drawing a line in the sand for every perceived slight, of letting nothing roll off our backs can be a damaging trait in adulthood. Owens, on the other hand, sees this as a mark of courage, of pride. He takes it to a level that leads to problems, because he sees almost everything as some kind of attack on him, and he won't let it pass no matter how unimportant it really is.
The book moves on to his time in San Francisco, and the main point here is that Terrell learns about the business side of the NFL, and feels that the 49ers didn't respect him because they didn't pay him what he deserved. He also tells us that Jerry Rice was very influential in his growth as a player, but unfortunately, Rice wasn't as influential on his growth as a person. Rice tells Owens that sometimes he needs to let things go, or compromise so that he can move past a situation. Owens doesn't buy it, saying that he will never compromise, he has too much pride. The book fails to shed much light on the feud between Owens and Jeff Garcia, so we never know why Owens felt it necessary to insinuate that Garcia was gay.
The transition from the 49ers years to the Philly years is a story about his agent David Joseph. Because Joseph screwed up in filing the papers for Owens' free agency, the whole ordeal about the trade to Baltimore, and then the forced trade to Philly is recounted to Joseph's detriment. Owens makes a point that he stood by his friend Joseph anyway, even though most people blamed him for the screw-up and for the undervalued contract Owens eventually signed with Philly. In fact, the NFLPA advised Owens not to sign the Philly contract and to wait because it was likely that he would become a free agent. Owens decided to trust Joseph who was telling him this was the best deal he would get, a mistake that later came back to haunt Owens.
Up to this point in the book, there is nothing terribly destructive about Owens behavior, but you can see the side of him that eventually will become an issue. You also get the feeling that incidents in San Francisco were not covered because Owens and Rosenhaus don't want the reader to see that Owens' behavior is a pattern. For instance, there is no discussion of Owens blowing up on the sideline with assistant coach Greg Knapp that was witnessed by a television audience. And the only discussion of Jeff Garcia comes in vague references that make it seem like the only problem Owens had with Garcia is that he wasn't Steve Young, who Owens effusively praises in the book.
The meat of the book is spent recounting his two years in Philly in chronological fashion. While we all thought the first year was all peaches and cream, it turns out the problems with Owens and McNabb actually began in that Super Bowl year. Most everybody knows that the problems began when Owens felt he was open in a game against the Giants and McNabb didn't throw him the ball. Owens said he only told McNabb that he missed him when he got back to the huddle and McNabb told him to "shut the fuck up". To Owens, this was a challenge to his manhood, a challenge to his pride, and he was determined to confront McNabb about it after the game. He did, the confrontation turned hostile and Dorsey Levens had to separate them. Here you have to ask yourself how big of a deal this really was. I'm sure that many QBs on many teams have probably snapped at various players in huddles throughout the history of the NFL. It's reasonable to conclude that McNabb could've handled it better, but did this incident really rise to a level where it should dominate Owens feelings toward his QB for the rest of his time in Philly? This is where you can see his childhood experiences creeping back into the picture, where Owens' pride manifested itself in a way that demanded McNabb apologize for the incident. McNabb didn't, maybe he should have, but in the whole scheme of things this should've just become history, but Owens refused to let it.
The book goes on recounting that season, and the injury and recovery that Owens made to play in the Super Bowl. Once again McNabb made some comments after the injury that were stupid on his part, saying that the team could win without Owens, they'd done it before. McNabb was obviously trying to keep the team's confidence up, but given his recent history with Owens, a smarter leader would've framed it better. Of course, this led Owens to think that McNabb had totally turned on him and made it a complete rupture in their relationship. It's hard to determine what McNabb was thinking throughout the season, obviously the book was written to favor Owens' side of the story. But one could rightfully come to the conclusion that McNabb did harbor some ill will toward Owens, though the reasons for this are unclear.
Owens makes the assertion that it was because McNabb was jealous that Owens was now receiving too much credit for Philly's success. Given McNabb's statements this past February, which the book covers in detail, to some extent it seems that Owens was correct. But, I would be hard pressed to believe that McNabb would intentionally not throw to Owens and endanger their chances of winning football games, simply because he was jealous of Owens' popularity. McNabb has worked his whole life to win games and win Super Bowls, would he really jeopardize all that for this petty feud? I would have to conclude no.
Whatever the truth is, by that offseason McNabb and Owens were done with each other in terms of any kind of speaking relationship. That offseason is when things really started to get crazy. Owens, realizing that the contract he had signed with the Eagles was not on the level of Randy Moss, began to question his choice of agents. He also took a look at his business dealing and his endorsement opportunities and concludes that David Joseph was mismanaging his career. Enter Drew Rosenhaus. Owens hires Rosenhaus and a whole team of people to get him a better contract and to get his financial affairs in order. Rosenhaus immediately determines that the contract with Philly is a bad one and begins to ask Philly to renegotiate.
Let me pause here to bring up an issue that I haven't touched on yet, Terrell's relationship with the media. It's a running theme throughout the book, but one that, in my opinion, doesn't help his case. Why? Because we all know, and he should know, what sports journalism is like. In this day and age of the Internet, of 24/7 coverage of sports by ESPN and others, sports journalism is no longer limited to just articles about the game and the box score. Essentially sports are an entertainment industry, and the press now covers it that way. Scandals, feuds, politically incorrect commentary, they all make their way into the papers and are promoted as a way of raising revenue. Everybody knows that, and so should Terrell Owens. Journalists are paid to write stories and give their opinions, and we, the public, crave more and more inside stuff. We can protest as much as we want that we only want the "truth", that we only want analysis of the games and strategies, but we're fudging the truth when we say that. We eat it up, we help to make the cycle of news. I'm not going to sit here and act self-righteous, act like I don't find the dark-side of sports fascinating. I do.
So is Terrell Owens so naïve that he doesn't understand this? Of course not, he knows it; he just can't help himself from feeding it. He has a personality that causes him to "speak the truth", as he reminds us constantly in the book. Well, if you do that, then you're going to pay for it. Most of us have learned that you can't always say what you feel, and there is no shame in modifying what you say for public consumption. For instance, if my boss calls me in his office and says "You're work has really been slack lately", my best course of action is not to say "Well, you're the one who shows up late, leaves early and who's work everyone thinks is a joke." That may be the truth, and it may be what I feel, but I'm smart enough to realize what that will get me. Owens somehow can't seem to grasp that concept. It has to do with that pride thing and no compromise. Well, if you choose to talk to the press like that, then you should expect the consequences instead of whining about it.
This plays into a big point of the book when Owens agrees with Michael Irvin's assessment that Philly would be undefeated if Brett Favre was the QB instead of McNabb. Terrell's assertion that he was just complimenting Favre and not saying anything bad about McNabb is what I find to be one of his most egregious offenses. Not necessarily what he said about Favre and McNabb, but his dogged defense of revisionist history where he believes this was in no way was a slap at McNabb. For all his rhetoric about "truth-telling", he fails to come clean here. In the NFL, you just don't say that your team would be better off with someone else instead of your own teammate. Even if it's true, which in this case is highly debatable, because Brett Favre hasn't played like the Hall of Famer Brett Favre in a few years, it's a taboo you just don't break. And if you do, you should be prepared for the consequences.
Let me back-track a moment to the offseason, when Rosenhaus wanted a new contract. The Eagles flat-out weren't interested in renegotiating. Some things were said and Owens was sent home during training camp, because he and Andy Reid got into an argument. The whole thing was about the Eagles asking him to sign autographs after practice. It was Eagles policy that certain players each day would spend time signing autographs for the fans. On that day, it was Owens' turn, but he had a groin injury and wanted to go into the locker room to get treatment. Reid instructed him to go sign the autographs, Owens refused and they got into an argument. The coach finally told him to "just shut up" and Owens responded in kind, saying he was a man and the coach had no right to talk to him that way. Once again, something that seems like nothing escalates into something and Owens was sent home for a week by Reid. This is when the famous "sit-ups work-out" occurred in Owens front yard.
Owens finally decided to forget about renegotiating during the season and just play ball. He came back to camp and things actually went pretty smoothly until doomsday. I'll get to that in a minute.
During the offseason, Owens made the comment that "I wasn't the one who got tired at the Super Bowl". Afterwards he claimed he never used the name Donovan and that he wasn't talking about him. This is just another example of Owens not being to tell the truth when the truth would make him look bad. Everyone knew who he was talking about, because everyone knew about Donovan getting tired and dry-heaving while trying to call plays at the end of the Super Bowl. Two Eagles players had already told the press the story. Once again, Owens can't own up to the damage his own words cause. This is also a recurring theme in the book, although Owens tries to spin it that it's not. In fact, he later admits that he talked to his pastor, who told him that even if he didn't mean it, if his words "accidentally" hurt someone else, then he has to atone for it. But this revelation comes after the Eagles had suspended him for good. So it takes a grown man all the way to that point in his life, and for his pastor to tell him that if you hurt someone with your words, you should take on the responsibility to rectify it.
Doomsday arrived during the week the Eagles were preparing to play the Redskins. (This is one week before they played Dallas and the Roy Williams interception ended McNabb's and the Eagles season for good.) This is something I got from the book that I hadn't realized before. The confluence of events that eventually led to his suspension happened on the same day. First, Owens had hurt his ankle in the Denver game that past Sunday. So he was in the trainer's room that morning getting treatment, when Hugh Douglas entered the locker room. In Owens account - which he says was later confirmed by Douglas in the arbitration hearing - Douglas was yelling loudly that Owens was faking his injury. This prompted Owens to go into the locker room and face up to Douglas. Douglas took a swing which grazed Owens, Owens hit Douglas in the body, and then other players jumped in and broke it up. At this point Owens challenged anyone in the locker room to a fight if they didn't believe him about his injuries. Nothing happened after that and Douglas left the locker room. Owens then went home and gave the infamous interview where he made the Brett Favre comments. Owens details the interview in the book showing how he had a lot of positive things to say about Philly and that ESPN took only the controversial things out of context and played them over and over on TV. Gee, imagine that, welcome to the real world. After having this done to him over and over in the past, you would think that Terrell would wake up and smell the coffee.
What he also said in the interview was that Philly was classless for the way they didn't announce his 100th TD reception over the PA at a game a few weeks back. In the book, he recounts how after the catch he was waiting for a scoreboard message or a PA message announcing it so the fans could join in the celebration. Even at that time, when he's on the field in the middle of a game, he's thinking about it. And it made him mad. It's hard to believe this is what he was thinking about in a game, but to each his own. But to turn around later and call the Philly organization classless about it, well, you're just digging your own grave.
After that interview, the Eagles responded by saying that Owens had to make an apology in front of the TV cameras to the team and to McNabb. Owens and Rosenhaus tried to get the Eagles to agree to just submitting a written apology but the Eagles refused, saying it had to be done on TV. Was this going overboard by the Eagles? Maybe, but then Owens does something really stupid. The Eagles and Team Owens drafted an apology, but Owens, along with Rosenhaus, crossed out the part about apologizing specifically to McNabb, without the Eagles knowledge, and he read it to the press that way. Big mistake. Once again Owens has too much pride to just do the simple thing and get this behind him. The Eagles were not amused and said that Owens had to apologize to McNabb specifically in front of the whole team. Owens refused, and that is the point when the Eagles suspended him for the rest of the season.
At this point, the book moves into the arbitration process. This is the part of the book where Owens is absolutely correct; he got screwed by the arbitrator in this process. It's also the part of the book when it's revealed that Jeremiah Trotter, other teammates and Andy Reid himself tried to get Owens back on the team. Owens claims that in a phone call before the arbitration, Trotter said that Reid wanted Owens to call him and that if he would apologize to McNabb they could make everything work out. Owens talked to Reid; Reid seemed to agree and said he would call him back in an hour. When Reid called back, he had changed his mind and decided that they would have to go through with the arbitration case. Owens makes a good argument that the only person with the motive and the juice to keep Owens off the team was McNabb.
The arbitration was a joke. I won't go through all the reasoning but suffice it to say that Owens should not have been allowed to be suspended for more than 4 games. It has to do with the CBA and other considerations but any reasonable person would have to side with Owens on this issue. In fact, the NFLPA has barred that arbitrator from ruling on NFL cases ever again.
After that, the book concludes with the free agency period and his eventual signing with Dallas.
One other thing that Owens and his defenders like to harp on is the fact that he doesn't break the law; he's not a wife-beater, drug-taker, drunk-driver or any other of the multitude of offenses committed by NFL players. This is true. But NFL organizations have one objective they hold over all others, win football games. They are not there to promote moral values, although they obviously have to be on the look out for those things in terms of hurting the organization. To society as a whole, it may seem like a double-standard, but in the world of the NFL, if it doesn't hurt the team they are likely to look the other way. You need to go no further than our own Dallas Cowboys of the 90's who were doing all kinds of morally questionable things, but as long as it didn't hurt the team, they were overlooked.
Unfortunately for Terrell Owens, his actions were perceived to hurt the team, and he was punished for it. Right or wrong, it is what it is.
So, what did I take away from the book? Terrell Owens can't stand to be bullied, and he has a persecution complex that makes everything in his world seem like an attack on him. His pride won't allow him to compromise, he knows what happens with the press but he continues to feed the beast anyway. He demands apologies from everyone, but rarely gives them out himself. He wasn't the sole contributor to the fiasco in Philly, McNabb and Andy Reid played their parts, but he could've easily avoided the problems if he would just deal with the world the way that most of the rest of us do. He definitely got screwed in arbitration, but he could've stopped it before it ever got to that point.
In other words, he wasn't committing crimes against humanity; he was mostly committing crimes against himself.