CANTON, Ohio -- There has never been a more selfish player in the history of the NFL than Terrell Owens. He's reminding us of that, again, this weekend.
As the rest of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 gathers, beginning today, in Canton, Owens will head to Chattanooga. He went to college there. And rather than stand with the rest of his classmates on the steps of the Hall and slip on his gold Hall of Fame jacket, Owens will instead deliver his speech in Tennessee.
Why? Does it really matter?
Owens says he's doing that to support all of the many players who've had to wait, too long in his opinion, for induction to the Hall. He cited, specifically, former Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer. Of course, Kramer is part of the Class of 2018 and will be in Canton to accept his induction and gold jacket. But why let details get in the way of a temper tantrum. The real issue, although Owens hasn't admitted it yet and probably never will, is that TO has had to wait three years for his enshrinement.
The Hall of Fame, correctly, will include Owens in all of its literature and video presentations on enshrinement day this Sunday. But they won't mention Owens, nor invite anyone else to speak in his absence. His player bust will appear with all of the other 317 enshrinees. They'll put his gold jacket in the mail Saturday morning. TO should get it sometime next week, presumably in Chattanooga.
Let's be completely clear about something here. Terrell Owens has never run afoul of the law. And other than an apparent overdose on hydrocodone while with the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, has never had an issue with any substance abuse. Maybe that's more of a commentary of how low the bar is for professional athletes. But TO's issues were more about his over-sized ego in a "look at me" era. Extract those things and this column and this weekend would be completely different.
If it were only about stats, Owens would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The man was a five-time first-team All-Pro, the highest honor bestowed on a player for any given season. Five times, Owens led the NFL in receiving touchdowns. His first touchdown catch came against the Bengals in 1996. His last touchdown catch came while playing for the Bengals in 2010. In between, there were some incredible heroics.
Against the Bears in 2000, Owens caught 20 passes for 283 yards. He was playing for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, where he thought so much of his team he consistently berated starting quarterback Jeff Garcia.
When he moved on to the Eagles, he signed a seven-year, $49 million deal and inherited Andy Reid as his head coach. By all accounts, there has been no finer person to hold the title of head coach in the NFL than Reid. Owens made a miraculous recovery from a broken leg and sprained ankle to play in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots in 2005. TO had nine catches for 122 yards in that game. The Patriots won. Owens celebrated by going on national TV a few days later saying, "I wasn't the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl," It was an indirect shot at then-Eagle quarterback Donovan McNabb. Of course with TO, the best was yet to come.
Later in 2005, Owens and Reid got into a screaming match during training camp. Reid suspended Owens. That's when TO did his infamous interview while doing sit-ups in his driveway. The TV guys lapped that up. We seem to play suckers to anyone who's loudest in the bunch. But that's a column for another day.
Later that same year, Reid suspended Owens again for an accumulation of violations. It was a four-game suspension at first. Reid, along with the rest of the Eagles' front office, decided it would be in the team's best interest to extend the four games through the rest of the season. Less than a year after his Super Bowl heroics, the Eagles had had enough of his act.
And when he gets to Dallas, Bill Parcells didn't show up for the press conference. Why? He didn't want to be part of it. Parcells never called him by his name.
Clark Judge is a veteran football writer who votes, every year, for who gets in and who doesn't, to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can find him at the talkoffame.com website.
"There are other issues than just numbers," Judge told me. "If it's just numbers, than we should just all get out of the room and let some accounting firm add it up. Let's just go by the numbers. Let's put 'em in by the numbers. OK, Wes Welker is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, just by the numbers. It's gotta be more than just numbers."
After three seasons and 38 touchdown catches and no playoff wins, the Cowboys had enough of Owens. He moved on to Buffalo for a year and then arrived in Cincinnati.
Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson lobbied Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis, heavily, for the Bengals to sign Owens for the 2010 season. They did, and it turned out to be the "season from hell." The Bengals won a grand total of four games. They lost 11 of their last 13 games. Owens and Johnson, together, took each other down. Who can forget the immortal "TO Ocho" cable show. Well, probably until right now, all of us.
By the end of 2010, Owens was gone and for all intents and purposes, done as an NFL player. He blew his knee out in the off-season, trying to stay in shape for some other NFL team to be lured by his over-shadowed talent. The Bengals, finally and mercifully, had had enough of Johnson and his nonsense. Palmer refused to show up for the 2012 season and was eventually traded to the Raiders. The Bengals fired their long-time offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, and started over again.
The characters were removed from the locker room and replaced by players of character. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green both arrived. Along with 2010 draft picks Jermaine Gresham, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, the team began winning again. Five straight seasons, the Bengals made the playoffs. Was it a coincidence? Maybe yes. Probably no.
Football is the ultimate team game. Terrell Owens operated in a time when wide receivers played divas. So, maybe, he was just the most diva of the divas of his time. But who says that kind of thing plays now, particularly at a moment that should be one of the crowning achievements of a player's career?
"TO had to come up with an excuse, other than saying, 'I'm really ticked off that I had to wait three years for this,' " Judge told me. "I don't care if you have to wait 30 years. When you're in, you know what they call you? A Hall of Famer. You know what they call the guy who graduated last in his class at med school? A doctor!"
This weekend, a "doctor" will be in Chattanooga instead of being honored as a member of an elite class. Statistically, there are few in TO's class. And maybe the problem is more about age than anything else. Those who vote for these kinds of things are growing younger. Their knowledge of great players of the past is only what they see on highlight reels, not every game every weekend. Anecdotal evidence never trumps real time. It's one of the reasons why Kenny Anderson hasn't made it to Canton. But look at Drew Pearson, another Cowboy, who made the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1970s. Cliff Branch played on three Super Bowl-winning teams with the Raiders. Owens is still waiting to win a Super Bowl ring. Mac Speedie had the unfortunate luck to play in the 40s and 50s, when television was nothing more than a novelty. But look up his stats and read his story. I wonder if TO will include him in his address to the masses in Chattanooga this weekend.
I suppose it's like anything in life. You often get what you ask for. TO craved the limelight. But I seriously doubt his acceptance speech this weekend, deep inside the state of Tennessee, will bring him the attention he's always craved. The seven other members of the class of 2018 will get that. Judge gets it too.
"What the Pro Football Hall of Fame said is: 'You don't want to be part of this ceremony. You told us you don't want to be part of this ceremony. You have been granted your wish.' "
Now then ...
- By about 8:30 tonight, most of the players running around the field in Canton will be known only to friends and loved ones. But the NFL is back, with the Hall of Fame game between the Ravens and Bears. The player I most want to see is Baltimore rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. Why do I still think the Bengals blew it by not trading up, out of the second round, to take him? I think he's a game changer.
- Surprised, but not shocked, that Matt Harvey is still with the Reds. My guess is, there was interest in Harvey. But when you look at the number of teams that traded for pitching before the deadline, teams that could have upgraded by selecting Harvey, my guess is they were scared off. First, his sample size in Cincinnati is small and Harvey's reputation before coming here was large. Harvey had well-documented physical and behavior issues while with the Mets. Here, pitching coach Danny Darwin has fixed his delivery and Harvey has been gracious when dealing with the media. But 2 1/2 months won't erase what happened in New York. Add in that Harvey will be a free agent after this season, and that his agent is the notorious Scott Boras, and the risk of trading for him was viewed as greater than any reward from signing him. Just a guess here. I think the Reds were, because of that, underwhelmed by offers. But I would be shocked if he's here through August. Trading him now will be a little more problematic, because of MLB trade rules.
- I've been thinking a lot about former Reds General Manager Wayne Krivsky, who's out of baseball this season after the Twins restructured their front office. Some team needs to sign this guy, at the very least as a special advisor. Krivsky was the Reds GM who got Brandon Phillips off the scrap heap in Cleveland for next to nothing. He traded Wily Mo Pena (good lord, remember him) to the Red Sox and got Bronson Arroyo in return. Then, he and Bob Castellini took a gamble and signed recovering drug addict Josh Hamilton and rebuilt his career. Hamilton should be forever grateful for that. After a year, when the Reds were desperate for starting pitching, he shipped Hamilton off to Texas and got Edinson Volquez in return. Initially, a lot of Reds fans were upset with the trade. And while Hamilton had some good years, he relapsed and then suffered a variety of injuries that cut short his career. Volquez had some good years here and then was part of the ill-advised trade that brought Mat Latos to the Reds. By the way, after leaving the Reds, Volquez won 69 more Major League games. Latos won just 33 in three seasons here. In the new world sabermetrics order of MLB, a baseball-smart guy like Krivsky would be invaluable to any team.
'That's it! Bad company'
Because he's coming to play at Riverbend next Wednesday night, along with Ann Wilson and Jeff Beck, and because he may be the best front man in the history of rock and roll, I had Paul Rodgers on my 700 WLW radio show this past weekend. He told me that, growing up in a suburb of London, he, like most of the world in the 1960s, was completely absorbed with The Beatles.
"I was a paper boy back then," Rodgers told me. "As I delivered my papers on my bicycle, I would sing Beatles songs."
Rodgers then ripped off a perfect-pitch rendition of "Norwegian Wood," sounding absolutely perfect through our phone connection.
Still in his teens, he and his friend Andy Frasier formed the band "Free" and together penned a song that would reach #4 on the Billboard charts in 1970. The song was "Alright Now." But for Rodgers, the best was yet to come.
Later in that decade, after Free had broken up, he and Frasier would team with former Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and Bozz Burrell, the bass guitarist from King Crimson. The group was called "Bad Company." And how did it get that name? Rodgers told me that Ralphs called him on the phone one day, saying, "Paul, It's Mick." Rodgers told me, "I simply responded 'Bad Company.' Next thing I hear is Mick dropping the phone. It was banging around against the wall of his house. When he came back on the line, he said, 'That's it! Bad Company.' "
Rodgers was asked to replace Jim Morrison by the surviving members of The Doors in the early 70s. He turned them down. He toured as the front man for Queen, after Freddie Mercury's death, but declined to front that group on a permanent basis. He's been in other super groups. But Bad Company was what Rodgers will be best remembered for. You don't have to remember now. You can go see him, next Wednesday night.