Thursday, June 30, 2011
Posted: 2:41 p.m.
By Reuben FrankCSNPhilly.com
Is there room for a bust of Terrell Owens in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Is there room in the Halls second-floor Gallery next to Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin and Bobby Hayes for one of the most talented and most confounding players in recent NFL history?
Is T.O. a Hall of Famer?
With Owens recent knee surgery jeopardizing his 2011 season and perhaps ending his career after 15 seasons, this is a good time to explore that fascinating question.
After 15 NFL seasons, Owens has 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns. He ranks fifth in NFL history in receptions, second in yards and second in touchdowns. He trails only Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, Cris Carter and Tim Brown in receptions and only the incomparable Rice in yards and TD catches.
But with Owens, its about much more than the numbers. It always is. His attitude issues, his constant feuds with coaches and quarterbacks, his disappointing playoff production and his late-career instability thats seen him play for four teams in the last six years wont help his chances.
Neither will the fact that the panel that decides whos a Hall of Famer and whos not is made up of a group that in general cant stand Owens: sportswriters.
If Owens doesnt play again, hed be eligible for consideration for the 2016 enshrinement class.
Will he go in?
The argument against T.O.
One big argument Owens detractors will use against him is that he was merely a stats compiler who did not help his team win.
The Halls electors have made it clear with their voting that its almost impossible for a receiver whos never won a Super Bowl or NFL Championship to get through the walls of the Hall of Fame.
Of the 20 pure wide receivers the Hall lists as modern-era players, from the 1950s on, only five Tom Fears, Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent, James Lofton and Charley Taylor did not play for an NFL champion. The most recent of that group to retire from the NFL was Lofton 18 years ago, and since then the game has changed dramatically, becoming a passing game to the point where guys who pile up enormous receiving numbers but dont win a ring guys like Irving Fryar, Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Jimmy Smith, who were all top-10 in NFL history in yards when they retired arent getting in.
Not only did T.O. not win a ring, his postseason numbers are mediocre at best. He was brilliant for the Eagles in the 2004 Super Bowl and he did have that 177-yard, two-TD game against the Giants in 2003, but hes been held to under 50 receiving yards in more than half his career playoff games (six of 11), including four of six this decade.
And the electors will look closely at how T.O.s teams did in those games. Was he making his teams better? Was he carrying them to postseason wins?
In his career, Owens is 4-7 in the postseason, including a 1-6 mark in his last seven games dating back to 1998. Since that 2003 game against the Giants, Owens has not been part of a postseason win. Not one in seven years.
T.O.s critics will point to the Eagles two playoff wins in 2004 without him as evidence that despite his big numbers, his teams were better off without him.
Then theres all the off-the-field stuff.
T.O. talked his way out of San Francisco. He talked his way out of Philly and Dallas. By the time he got to Buffalo and Cincinnati the last two years, he had calmed down a bit and wasnt causing problems, but he was also in his late 30s, dropping passes more than anybody in the NFL and although still productive, no longer one of the most dangerous players in the league.
And this is the problem with having media members picking Hall of Famers: Theres probably not a single guy on that panel that likes T.O. personally. Hes never had a good relationship with the media, and although that shouldnt matter, it will.
T.O.s detractors will have plenty of fodder to try and prevent him from ever being selected as a Hall of Famer.
The argument for T.O.
Only one person in the history of pro football has scored more touchdowns or produced more receiving yards than T.O., and thats Jerry Rice, his former teammate with the 49ers and probably the greatest football player in history.
There are 20 pure receivers in the Hall of Fame, and T.O. has more touchdowns than 19 of them. He has more receiving yards than 19 of them. And he has more catches than 19 of them.
Terrell Owens has been a more productive wide receiver throughout his career than 95 percent of the receivers who are already in the Hall of Fame, so how can he not belong there as well?
From 1997 through 2010 the span of 14 years T.O. averaged 75 receptions for 1,101 yards and 10 12 touchdowns. In NFL history, only five players have recorded more than three single seasons with 75 catches, 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. And thats what T.O. averaged for a decade and a half.
If Owens isnt a Hall of Famer, how is Art Monk? T.O. has scored 88 more touchdowns than Monk, has three more seasons with at least 1,200 yards and twice as many Pro Bowls (six to three). T.O. reached double digits in touchdowns seven times. Monk never did.
Lets compare Owens and Rice through their first 15 seasons: Owens has averaged only 8 12 fewer catches, 167 fewer yards and one fewer touchdown. So hes in the same universe as the greatest ever comparing them at the same point in their careers.
If the argument against enshrinement is that Owens didnt produce in the postseason and didnt win a Super Bowl, just look back to Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots in Jacksonville on Feb. 6, 2005, when he caught nine passes for 122 yards playing on a broken leg. How many guys have had more catches and more yards in a Super Bowl? Two Jerry Rice and Deion Branch.
If the argument is that Owens attitude should keep him out of Canton, then ask yourself why his teams always won. If his attitude was really such a problem on the field, how did his teams win 10 or more games seven out of his first 12 years in the league and reach the playoffs eight of his first 12 years in the league?
If the argument is that Owens hurt his legacy by drifting from team to team late in his career, then why wasnt that held against Lofton, who played for five teams in his last eight seasons and wasnt nearly as productive late in his career as Owens?
The only argument against Owens eventual induction in Canton is that he was a jerk for most of his career, but last time we checked, that isnt part of the criteria for enshrinement. And nobody ever accused T.O. of not playing hard, not practicing hard, not preparing hard.
Largent crossed the 1987 NFLPA picket line and played in replacement games. He got in. Lawrence Taylors career was marred by a litany of drug-related arrests. He got in. Michael Irvin was in constant legal trouble. He got in.
Owens has never been arrested, never been in trouble, never done anything worse than sit-ups in his driveway.
Is that enough to overshadow all of his remarkable accomplishments?
Bottom line is that if T.O. never plays another snap in the NFL, he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Statistically, hes second only to Rice in overall production. Hes played on playoff teams most of his career, and when he finally got a shot in a Super Bowl, he performed at the highest possible level and nearly willed his underdog teammates to their first championship in nearly half a century.
He wont be a first-ballot pick, since the selection process favors athletes who had a cozy relationship with the media. But eventually Owens will stand at the podium in McKinley High Schools Fawcett Stadium and watch as his bust is unveiled.