O’Boyle: Put Terrell Owens in the Hall already
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, February 14, 2017
When James White reached the football over the goal line in Houston to complete the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, he ensured we would not see another NFL game for just under six months.
The next time we will get to see real NFL action will be the Hall of Fame Game, on Aug. 3 in Canton, Ohio (assuming it isn’t canceled like last year’s event). We don’t know yet what will happen in that game, or who will play, but there is one important thing we do know: Terrell Owens will not be in attendance.
In the week before the Super Bowl, we learned that Owens — for the second year running — had missed out on enshrinement into the Hall. Snubbing Owens once was already among the worst errors in the history of the Hall; making him wait even longer is unforgivable.
Owens is undoubtedly a top-5 receiver in the history of the NFL. He’s second only to Jerry Rice in receiving yards, and third to Rice and Randy Moss in receiving touchdowns. Moving from team to team, he was a success on the field at every stop, becoming one of the most feared offensive threats of the 2000s.
There are 32 players in the Hall of Fame listed at wide receiver, or the proto-receiver positions of offensive end or flanker. Of those, Rice is the only player that you can say was absolutely, unarguably better than Owens, and Rice was better than any receiver ever. I’m confident in saying a majority of fans, players, coaches or any group other than Pro Football Hall of Fame voters would place him behind only Rice and Don Hutson. In terms of actual on-field performance, Owens is a long way ahead of players such as Michael Irvin and Lynn Swann, who — while great — benefited from playing on some of the greatest teams of all time and winning multiple rings. When compared to his peers, Owens was certainly considered above his fellow 1996 draftee Marvin Harrison, yet Harrison has made the Hall while Owens continues to wait.
More than that, if anyone doubts Owens the player was a surefire Hall of Fame talent, there should be no doubt that T.O. the league icon was too important to leave out. T.O.’s celebrations made him perhaps the most talked-about player in the league in his prime and can’t-miss TV even for those who weren’t sports fans. T.O. producing a Sharpie from his sock to sign the ball he caught, using the ball as a pillow to take a nap and, of course, celebrating on the Dallas Cowboys’ star are all unforgettable NFL moments. The much-maligned celebration rules in today’s league exist mostly because of Owens. In the era of the “diva receiver,” T.O. was the archetype. Kids dreamed of scoring like Owens, but, more than that, they dreamed of celebrating like him. And some of those kids, like Odell Beckham, are now NFL superstars in their own right.
Were there negative consequences of T.O.’s brash attitude? Of course. Terrell Owens struggled to keep good relationships with his teams, causing him to bounce around the league and never end up in a situation where he could have earned a ring. But that was just part of what made him an icon of the league. He wasn’t always easy to work with, but he would always perform. Though sometimes petulant, he was a competitor, shown by his 122 yards in Superbowl XXXIX despite suffering a fractured fibula two months earlier.
T.O.’s “diva” personality is quite clearly the reason why voters have not yet inducted him into the Hall. The media never liked T.O., partly because he didn’t like them, and now — despite all the column inches and screentime they devoted to him — they’re punishing an all-time great for it. Owens may not have always been the kind of teammate like, say, Larry Fitzgerald, but that made him special. The holdout against Owens will likely end soon. Other receivers before him have had to wait longer than expected for induction, but when we’re talking about a player this talented and this important, there’s no excuse to wait. Owens should have been voted into the Hall of Fame a year ago. If he misses out any longer, the organization will lose serious credibility.
There’s two ways of looking at his career: Terrell Owens the player, and T.O. the icon. Terrell Owens the player was one of the greatest receivers ever. T.O. the icon was one of the greatest personalities the league has ever seen.
Either way, this isn’t hard.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.