Late Sunday night, I read on twitter that Terrell Owens tore his ACL. Now I’m not absolutely sure if this is true and if it is I don’t know how it occurred but the alleged injury did inspire this piece.
Owens is 36 and if the ACL tear is true, it’ll be at the least a six month recovery for him. I’m not sure that’ll end his career but it may. Owens has had a great career by all accounts but his personality and his travels have made him one of the NFL’s more polarizing figures in recent memory. It begs the question, “What will Owens legacy be when he ultimately calls it quits? Is he a Hall of Famer?”
There have been many trials and tribulations in Owens career, seemingly starting with that touchdown catch from Steve Young in the 1998 NFC Wild Card game. That seemed to be when the Star of Terrell Owens was born. He had finally broken through that year as he became a top target for Hall of Fame QB Steve Young and that was his signature moment. The catch between three Packer defenders and the tears that streamed from Owens face after he got up with the ball in his hands simply made that moment everything a signature moment is expected to be.
Owens has had many game changing plays. He’s crossed the goalline 153 times in his career, and he has 1,078 catches at 14 yards a catch. The talent was there, the effort was there for the most part. There aren’t many WRs in this era who blocked with the ferocity that Owens does. There aren’t many who fought for every yard like Owens did. There aren’t many who can break a game open the way he did. I don’t think anything negative that is said regarding Owens and his career that is based on his skill.
But for as good as Owens was on the field and in between the lines, his constant need for attention, and him essentially being an NFL nomad for the last four years of his career has soured many people’s lasting thoughts on him. One can make the argument that his attitude is as bad as his production is good. You know that has to be the case where we can debate the legacy of a man who has 1,078 catches, 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns.
Owens has clashed with players (both offensive and defensive), head coaches, offensive coordinators. He clashed with Jeff Garcia which divided that locker room and ultimately led to the demise of the 49ers. He openly questioned Jeff Garcia’s sexuality (the relevance to football is?), and made that relationship uncomfortable. He then got his wish and got a trade to a winning team, the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2004 he helped trigger QB Donovan McNabb’s best season as a pro as he and McNabb lit secondaries up that entire season. In 14 games, Owens had 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns and a 15.6 average. Owens and McNabb just clicked. Short, medium deep, screens, hitches, it didn’t matter. Nobody could stop them as the Eagles stomped through the league to the NFC’s best record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Unfortunately in a relatively meaningless week 15 game, General Horse Collar (S Roy Williams) did his deed and collared Owens breaking his leg. Owens missed five games and came back in the Superbowl. He played on a broken wheel in the Superbowl and still put forth an amazing performance as he caught 9 passes for 122 yards.
I think that performance and the aftermath/chatter following it sum up the public perception regarding Owens. Some of us looked at the performance and said “Man, what a performance,” then others minimized it. And before we could let the performance marinate, Owens is doing situps on his driveway.
Then he eventually forced his way out of Philadelphia as he could get along with no one. He was traded to Dallas, and that ended unceremoniously for him as well as he was released. Then he was banished to Czechoslovakia (Buffalo), for a year then played in Cincinnati. All I could wonder while this was happening is what would have happened had Owens just been a professional. What if he and McNabb could co-exist? Both of their careers might have taken different paths. McNabb might have some jewelry, and Owens might have a better legacy.
How will I remember Owens? I’ll remember him as a game breaking one of a kind talent who was came into the league without much fanfare and will leave the same way. I’ll remember him as the receiver who could do a little bit of everything, and delivered some of the nastiest stiff arms I’ve ever seen on the gridiron. I’ll remember him grabbing nine balls (many of which were very poorly thrown) in the Superbowl on a bad wheel. I’ll remember him for his frank nature in the media, even if it understandably didn’t come across well.
Most of all, I’ll remember him for being a Hall of Fame Caliber FOOTBALL player. At last check the Hall of Fame is about performance. 1,078 catches, 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns is HALL OF FAMER, no matter how you want to slice it. Like him, love him, have no feelings towards him, the man played and produced like a Hall of Famer. The day it becomes about personality and/or politics should be the day he misses out. But this isn’t a beauty pageant, it is football.