Last year when Terrell Owens was snubbed from being elected into the Hall of Fame, it came as a surprise. Owens body of work speaks for itself and his selection into this limited group of excellence seemed like a forgone conclusion, but he would be deprived of the unique title of first-ballot Hall Of Famer. Okay, fine. That’s a prestigious honor and clearly the writers didn’t think Owens deserved to be grouped with such a distinguished class of people.
But when the selection committee decided to pass over on him again this year, something is terribly wrong. They’ve now crossed over from childlike pettiness to inequitable behavior that is completely sideswiping the standards of the Hall Of Fame.
Before I continue, I just want to put some things on the table. For Cowboys fans there can be quite the disparity of perceptions of TO because while he gave us a lot to celebrate, there were some things we didn’t care for as well.
When Jerry Jones signed Owens in 2006, I was livid. The hostility wasn’t directed at Owens necessary, but rather Jones for making a deal with the devil. Let’s face it, after Owens little midfield star incident, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Cowboys fan who would be excited for that annoying instigator joining this team. He was the enemy in it’s purest form. But there was nothing we could do about it so we sat helplessly as Jones tried to jump start a Bill Parcells’ team that had missed the playoffs the previous two years. Whether we were happy about it or not, Owens was a Cowboy and all we could do is give him a chance.
So, with an open mind and the ever-present desire of wanting the Cowboys to win, many of us fans started cheering on number 81. Right from the start he made a positive impact. He scored a touchdown in his first ever game as a Cowboys and finished the season with over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns. He would do even better the following year with over 1,300 yards and set a then franchise-record of 15 touchdowns.
While his on-field ability was fantastic, there were other things about him that made it easy to warm up to him. For starters, the guy kept himself in such remarkable shape. The way he approached his diet and training was a great example to young players trying to sculpt themselves into an athletic specimen. Second, while there was this notion that Owens was a head-case, he was never in trouble with the law. Not a single DUI, no hint of domestic abuse, and despite the appetite of a fun-filled, party-like lifestyle, not once was there a single allegation of drug use. Whether he had the character you looked for in a football player, he had much more of a reputable behavior outside the game than many would have guessed. Finally, the guy was always on the field. He only missed one game during his tenure with Dallas and that was when he was held out of a meaningless final game of the 2007 season where the team finished 13-3.
Based on Owens numbers, he’s a shoe-in HOF’er:
He ranks second all-time in receiving yards. Andre Reed, Art Monk, Steve Largent, James Lofton, and Michael Irvin all have fewer receiving yards than Owens and they are all Hall of Famers.
He ranks eighth all-time in receptions.
He ranks third all-time in receiving touchdowns.
While both the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers would struggle to be competitive after their early ‘90s success, the 49ers were able to stay relevant a little longer thanks to the services of Owens. In just his second season, he would have over 900 yards receiving and help the 49ers go 13-3, making it to the NFC Championship game. During Owens eight years in San Francisco, the 49ers would make the playoffs five times. As soon as he left, the 49ers would go on to win only two games the following season and wouldn’t sniff the playoffs until eight years later when Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach.
Owens then joined an Eagles team that was already great. In 2004, Philadelphia was coming off three straight NFC Championship appearances, however they came up short each time. With the help of Owens, the Eagles had a franchise best 13-3 record. The Eagles would have a great season and finally made it over the hump and reached the Super Bowl. Despite being three weeks from recovery from injury, Owens played in the Super Bowl and had nine catches for 122 yards. Owens had suffered a severe sprained ankle and fractured fibula after being horse collared by Cowboys safety, Roy Williams (an incident that changed the rules of the game). He risked his career to help his team on the game’s biggest stage.
The marriage with Philadelphia was short-lived as the following season began with a contract dispute. While it seemed that Owens was being paid generously, his contract was back-loaded so the money he was guaranteed was less than the average salary of the better wide receivers in the game. No new agreement was reached, tensions mounted, and the Eagles eventually suspended him four games before deactivating him for the rest of the season. The Eagles would go 6-10 that season.
Owens would then join a Cowboys team that had missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. Immediately, he sparked the offense. The Cowboys would make the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, including tying their franchise best 13-3 record in 2007. In case you’re keeping track, that’s three franchises that went 13-3 with Owens. Tony Romo has had many great seasons with the Cowboys, but none was greater than his franchise touchdown record breaking season where he had Owens by his side.
But Romo would not have such a memorable season the following year. With the Cowboys sitting at 8-4 entering December, fighting for a playoff spot - Romo would struggle immensely. The Cowboys would lose three of their next four games and during that span Romo would have more interceptions than touchdown passes. Owens complained that Romo was targeting his best friend, Jason Witten too much. Not much was publicly addressed regarding this incident, but Owens would not be a Cowboy the following season. Dallas would go on to make the playoffs only once over the next five seasons.
And for many Cowboys fans it’s just easy to make Owens the scapegoat. After all, he had already developed a reputation for being a locker room cancer in SF and Phily so it was just easy to chalk up another one.
As a Cowboys fan who re-watches the tape diligently, the cold hard truth was that Owens was correct. Romo was forcing passes into coverage as he was targeting Witten and it was detrimental. As truthful as it was, Owens decision to express his displeasure was not a good one. He was right in his assessment, but that’s not how he should’ve handled it. And despite being one of the true greats talent-wise, this reputation of being a bad teammate continues to haunt him.
But to be fair, things like: great off-season training, weekly preparation, competitive spirit, always available, and flat out tearing it up on the field - are all great qualities that help a team perform better. And people can run with the “bad teammate” narrative all they want, but the fact is that teams became better when Owens arrived and then became worse when he departed. That sounds like a teammate you want to have.
But maybe there’s more to it than that. Does the Hall committee concern themselves with prima donna behavior where showboating antics hurt your HOF stock? Of course not, because otherwise Deion Sanders wouldn’t be there.
Does a player have to be an upstanding citizen and conduct themselves with great character all the time? Absolutely not. Michael Irvin had all kinds of issues that left severe blemishes on his character rating. But Irvin was a great locker room guy and motivated his teammates to play hard and had a great desire to win.
Maybe Owens was disruptive in the locker room and ran around badgering people or stealing everyone’s equipment? Of course, Charles Haley did some really terrible locker room stuff and was such a problem that the 49ers essentially gave them to the Cowboys in a trade. So that can’t be it.
Sanders, Irvin, and Haley are all in the Hall of Fame. But they’re also Super Bowl champions. Owens is not. Maybe it’s all about winning? But Andre Reed, Steve Largent, and James Lofton have not won a Super Bowl. So that can’t be it.
So what gives? What are these special demerits that are specific to Owens that are prohibiting him from being good enough to make it in the Hall of Fame. His career has been exhilarating and he’s helped multiple teams experience success. What more do they want from this guy? The committee needs to get their act together because if they are going to pass up on a special player like Terrell Owens in lieu of inferior talent who’s just more likable, then they are damaging what it means to be a Hall Of Fame recipient.
Let him in!