The Terrell Owens Experience
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 04, 2009
(Ed. Note: T.O. was signed by Buffalo over the weekend, two days after we published this piece here. For the latest Cold, Hard Football Facts on the T.O.-to-Buffalo deal, see our piece over at SI.com.)
The decision in Dallas to cut Terrell Owens yesterday jumped off the newswire here in what's shaping up to be a pretty interesting 2009 off-season.
The move leaps out, with the glassy-eyed suddenness of a CHFF reader fighting over the last soggy nacho chip, for four major reasons:
ONE - Owens has been such a prominent figure in the NFL over the past decade – both on and off the field – and because Dallas remains America's Team, even as it's become a loud, brash and ultimately under-achieving organization. And Owens, fairly or unfairly, has been the poster child for a team that makes so much noise for 17 weeks, and then really doesn't do a whole lot when push comes to shove in January.
TWO - The decision to cut Owens comes almost three years to the day that Owens was cut by his last team, the Eagles (March 14, 2006).
THREE - The Cowboys had just signed Owens to a massive extension back in June (reports range from $27 million to $34 million), telling us that something had changed drastically in the nine months or so since the deal was struck. Like maybe team owner Jerry Jones got a clue or something.
FOUR - Finally, the move jumps out because Terrell Owens is the Jimi Hendrix of modern pro football. He was (and is) a virtuoso genius with talent the likes of which we've rarely if ever seen – but who lets it all go to waste in the end thanks to self-destructive behavorial issues.
In the case of Hendrix it was drugs and alcohol that left us wondering what might have been. In the case of Owens, it's an inability to shut his mouth, an inability to be a good foot solider for any length of time, a seemingly insatiable appetite to be the center of attention, even if it makes him a court jester, and an unending need to shoot his way out of every town foolish enough to first take him in.
On the field, Owens is one of the most prolific receivers in history. Off the field, he's been an emotional train wreck of a teammate, throwing more people under the bus than – to use a purely hypothetical example – a presidential candidate who suddenly realizes his professed "spiritual leader" is a racial supremacist.
Here's a look at great steaming paradox of douchery that is the TO experience.
The virtuoso talent
It's simply not possible to dispute Owens's production on the field, just like it's not possible to dispute Hendrix's talent on stage or in the studio.
Let's put it this way: Owens scored 38 touchdowns in just three seasons with Dallas.
To put those 38 TDs in three seasons in perspective, consider that the franchise's all-time receiving leader, Hall of Famer Michael Irvin, caught a career total 65 TDs in 12 seasons, and never more than 23 in a three-year period.
A quick scan of the great leaderboards created by our friends over at ProFootballReference.com highlights what a historically productive receiver Owens has been. Here's where he stacks up in most major receiving categories.
Receptions – 951 (6th, tied with Andre Reed)
It's quite possible that, with a couple more seasons, Owens could end up No. 2 on the all-time receptions list behind only Jerry Rice
Receiving yards – 14,122 (5th)
Again here, second all-time is within reach, though two active players, Isaac Bruce (14,944) and Marvin Harrison (14,580) are ahead of him.
TD catches – 139 (2nd)
It's possible that, if Owens somehow played to about age 42, that he could reach Jerry Rice (197). But No. 2 is a pretty big statement of his talents.
Yards per game – 74.7 (10th)
Maybe not the most important number, but Owens is still among the all-time best.
The self-destructive behavior
The problem for Owens is that he was never able to pull it all together anywhere else but on the field, whether on the sidelines, in the locker room, or in his hyperbaric chamber at home.
Quite simply, he was a disaster of teammate and probably the last guy you'd want in your foxhole when the sh*t gets heavy.
The second that times turned tough, Owens was the first guy pointing fingers.
Owens ripped Jeff Garcia when times got tough in San Francisco, even publicly questioning the quarterback's sexual orientation at one point. Garcia, you might be interested to know, boasts the 11th best passer rating in NFL history. He's not a Hall of Famer, but his production has exceeded his lightweight reputation and he's a guy most receivers would be happy to play with.
Owens ripped Donovan McNabb when times got tough in Philadelphia, hastening his exit from Cheesesteak Town. McNabb has had his own rocky career, but his production has been fairly prolific (14th all time in passer rating) and he's made the Eagles probably the premier NFC franchise of the 21st century. He's a guy most receivers would be happy to play with.
And, as we saw last year, Owens ripped Tony Romo when times got tough in Dallas, apparently upset – we can't make this second-grade stuff up – because the quarterback had a better relationship with tight end Jason Witten. Apparently Tony sent Jason a note in study hall ... and then somebody told Terrell, and Terrell got mad ... so he yelled at Tony ...
The juvenile behavior finally forced Jerry Jones to cut Owens yesterday. It's a public admission that the decision he made last year – the decision to hand Owens so much money that he could fill his pool with hundred dollar bills – was a mistake.
But the QB controversies – typically a no-no for wide receivers – were only part of the story. Here's just a short list of other incidents that we're sure will find their way onto the Terrell Owens resume when he starts looking for work here in the off-season.
October 2001 – Owens calls out San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci after the 49ers blow a big lead and lost to the Bears in overtime.
Off-season 2004 – Owens and his representatives screw up free-agency paperwork, so the 49ers – a team he desperately wants to leave – retain his rights. San Francisco, at this point, desires the wide receiver about as much as it desires anal warts. So the 49ers try to trade Owens to Baltimore, but he refuses ... and then files a grievance. He ultimately ends up in Philadelphia, playing with his new BFF McNabb.
April 2005 – Owens hires snake-oil entrepreneur Drew Rosenhaus and tells the media that he needs a new contract "to feed his family" Owens at the time made about $7 million per year. Remember, he had fought for that $7 million-per-year deal and had even taken it against the advice of his own union.
August 2005 – Owens was told to leave training camp after a verbal altercation with Eagles head coach Andy Reid. He's soon seen lifting weights and doing sit-ups for the cameras during an impromptu press conference outside his house.
November 2005 – Owens gets into a locker room altercation with Eagles teammate Hugh Douglas.
November 2005 – Owens rips the Eagles organization for not acknowledging his 100th touchdown catch, saying the team showed a lack of class.
November 2005 – Soon after the Douglas fight, Owens tells the media that the Eagles would be better off with Brett Favre at quarterback instead of McNabb. (The interest of full disclosure forces us to reveal that Favre threw a horrendous 29 picks that season – only seven players in the history of the NFL have ever thrown more and none in the last 20 years; so it's unlikely there's a career in talent evaluation for Owens after his playing days are over).
November 2005 – Owens is suspended for four games by the Eagles.
November 2005 – Following the suspension, in one of the most bizarre moments in recent NFL history, Owens and Rosenhaus host a Q&A with the media at the receiver's home in which the agent failed to offer any A in response to the Q. As reporters fired off questions, Rosenhaus repeatedly fired back, "Next question!"
March 2006 – The Eagles cut Owens, apparently right before he was due a big bonus.
September 2006 – Owen's career with the Cowboys gets underway in true prima donna fashion, with one of the most curious stories in recent NFL history. He was rushed to the hospital after reportedly overdosing on painkillers in a suicide attempt. He returned to play two weeks later.
October 2006 – Owens admits to a tirade following a Dallas loss in his return to Philadelphia. During the game, the famously hospitable Eagles fans welcome Owens with a good-natured sing-song chant of "O-D. O-D. O-D."
show video here
October 2006 – Owens gets into an altercation with Dallas receivers coach Todd Haley.
December 2006 – Owens spits in the face of Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall.
Need we re-hash the most recent Dallas years? We think you get the point.
The psychedelic poster boy of pigskin
What's it great Terrell Owens paradox all mean?
This is our take: It means you should never, ever, ever get caught up in the glitz of a flashy wide receiver.
We've written quite a bit in the past about the secondary nature of great wide receivers.
They make big, spectacular game-changing plays ... but even the best do so only rarely, and these plays come only after the other 10 guys have done their job: the blockers who protect the quarterback, the other receivers who run correct routes, the passer who accurately delivers the ball. Then, and only then, can the receiver make his greatest impact on the game. Receivers, then, by the very nation of the position, are secondary players on a team.
The all-time top 10 players in receiving yards, for example, combined to win just five Super Bowls. Three of those were won by Jerry Rice alone – the No. 1 guy in almost every category.
But, remember, Rice joined an organization that was already the best in the league in so many areas and that had won two Super Bowls before he arrived. In fact, when he joined the 49ers in 1985, they were the defending champs.
Awesome receiver, no doubt. At least one of the two best of all time (the only other receiver who merits serious consideration for best ever is Don Hutson). But the 49ers did not win because of Jerry Rice.
New England's Randy Moss, who we wrote about in depth a couple months ago, is a prime example of the limited impact a receiver can have on his team's final results. Everywhere Moss goes, we find teams and quarterbacks who light up the scoreboards and the record books. He's probably the highest impact receiver in the history of the game.
Yet Moss is still searching for his first Super Bowl ring.
But Owens, more so than Moss, is probably the greatest example of the flashy brilliance of a wide receiver in the modern game, and the limited impact he has on the final wins and losses. After all, as we've seen above, few players in the history of the game were better at the position than Owens. But ultimately it's led to little team success. In 13 NFL seasons, for example, Owens has enjoyed just four playoff victories (against seven losses).
And in the case of Owens, the relatively low impact of the position has stood in sharp contrast to his high production his high-impact off-the-field antics.
Teams have had to pay a high price to deal with Owens, to gain that historic production. But teams rarely gain a whole lot from big-production receivers, other than flash and pizzazz. In the case of Owens, what they mostly gained were headaches and turmoil.
Maybe it will be a lesson to the league: don't put too much stock in a wide receiver, even a brilliant wide receiver.
In the end, San Francisco, Philly and Dallas couldn't wait to get rid of this immense talent. That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
Maybe that's what they should put on his display in Canton someday: "So good ... so productive ... but nobody could stand him." And maybe Jerry Jones and the Dallas brain trust should have known it was going to end this way when they signed him back in 2006.
After all, the Terrell Owens Experience always ends the same way.
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