State Your Case: Terrell Owens

He may not have been a Hall-of-Fame teammate, but Terrell Owens is a Hall-of-Fame receiver.

Terrell Owens photo courtesy San Francisco 49ers
Terrell Owens photo courtesy San Francisco 49ers

(Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers)

(Cover photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

Terrell Owens may be the most controversial Hall-of-Fame nominee in NFL history but not because his 15-year career isn’t Hall-of-Fame worthy. He’s controversial not because he was easy to cover but because he was hard to get along with.

So what?

Is this the Hall of Fame or the Miss Congeniality contest?

No fair-thinking person can argue his production. Owens retired with 15,934 receiving yards, 153 touchdowns and 1,078 receptions. That left him second in yards, third in touchdowns and sixth in catches in the game’s 90-year history. Would it have been nicer if he also was the guy who brought donuts in on Monday mornings? Yes, but that would not have made him more productive.

Receivers are, by the nature of their dangerous work, mercurial. Their egos are huge, their deportment often outlandish and their mouths often run faster than their feet. This can be a managerial problem, and Owens was often that. But he was a bigger problem for opposing defenses, which is how an offensive player should be judged.

For all his battles with management and criticism of teammates, no one ever questioned his courage over the middle or his will to win. He proved both clearly on pro football’s biggest stages: the playoffs.

In 1998 his game-winning playoff catch against the Packers ... while willingly enduring a wallop he knew was coming ... ended the 49ers’ frustrations after losing five straight times to Green Bay. Three of those losses had come in playoff games, but Owens won for them that day with one of the most difficult catches in traffic in playoff history despite having several drops earlier in the game.

That catch took more than hands and speed and agility. It took courage, and he had that in abundance.

In 2004, in his first season with the Eagles, Owens was averaging a touchdown catch per game when he broke his fibula. Philadelphia was 13-1 at the time and favored to get to the Super Bowl. Although few expected to see him back that season, Owens vowed to return for Super Bowl XXXIX if the Eagles made it. This was dismissed even by the team’s medical staff as outlandish.

Well, the Eagles showed up to face the New England Patriots in SB XXXVI, and Terrell Owens was there with them, limping and heavily wrapped ... but still unstoppable. Owens not only played through pain; he was a pain to the Patriots, hauling in nine passes for 122 yards. Had the Eagles found a way to win that day, Owens would have been Super Bowl MVP.

Yes, he got into contact disputes in San Francisco and Philadelphia, as well as battles with teammates. Yes, he publicly criticized quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb in ways that felt unseemly and certainly were ill-advised. But he was also the guy who caught 50 percent of Garcia’s 32 TD throws in 2001 and played for the Eagles on a broken leg in the Super Bowl and performed ... well, like Superman.

Pro football is a bottom-line business. It’s about production, not good citizenship. If that was not the case, if Owens had been nominated for, say, the Boy Scouts of America, it would be easy to understand the argument that he does not belong. But the Pro Football Hall of Fame is about the best football players who ever played. To argue Terrell Owens isn’t one of them is to argue against the numbers he posted and the way he played in some of the biggest games of his career.

He was not an Eagle Scout. Just ask Donovan McNabb. He was not 49er Friendly. Just ask Jeff Garcia.

But he was a great wide receiver, one of the best to ever play. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a five-time first team All-Pro and a member of the 2000s all-decade team. He is a guy who scored 13 touchdowns in 2007 for the Cowboys playing with a finger that needed to be surgically repaired. He’s a guy who led the Bengals with 72 catches for 983 yards and nine TDs at the age of 37 and had a game vs. the Browns in which he had 10 catches for 222 yards.

You may not like Terrell Owens, but a receiver’s first job is to produce catches and touchdowns ... not conviviality. He did those first two things better than nearly anyone who ever played.

To argue he doesn’t belong because he was difficult to get along with is to ignore where he was most difficult to get along with most often: Which was running through opposing secondaries.