By Rob Maaddi
(AP) – When Pro Football Hall of Fame voters meet the day before the Super Bowl to choose the Class of 2018, the decision to select Terrell Owens should take less time than it does to microwave a bag of popcorn.
T.O. belongs in Canton. It’s a no-brainer.
Owens is second to Jerry Rice in all-time receiving yards and third in touchdown catches behind Rice and Randy Moss, a finalist in his first year of eligibility.
No. 81 was a five-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowl pick and of the most entertaining players of his generation.
Owens deserved first-ballot induction. Case closed. Yet, he’s been snubbed twice because voters are punishing him for his off-field and locker room “antics” during a sensational 15-year career.
But there is no “character clause” for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – and that’s not saying Owens should fail it.
Owens was never arrested nor suspended by the NFL. He didn’t have legal issues or drug problems.
Still, he’s been kept out because of questionable behavior and the perception he was a malcontent.
Sure, Owens often spoke his mind and sometimes got under the skin of teammates and coaches. He threw some of his quarterbacks – Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo – under a rapidly moving bus. He also defended Romo from criticism and famously cried once while doing it.
Owens should be judged for his value on the field. He made every one of the five teams he played for better. He wasn’t the perfect teammate and he was disruptive at times, but when he stepped on the field, he was exceptional and durable.
Owens only missed 12 games in his long career, plus the nine he didn’t play in 2005 after Andy Reid kicked him off the Philadelphia Eagles following a nasty feud with McNabb and a dispute with management over a new contract.
That came only several months after Owens helped McNabb have his best season, then heroically returned from ankle surgery – against doctor’s orders – to play in the Super Bowl. Owens would’ve been MVP of that game against the New England Patriots if McNabb didn’t throw three interceptions in the 24-21 loss.
Anyone who covered the T.O. circus in Philadelphia and the aftermath knows Owens wasn’t solely to blame for the way things went down. McNabb was overly sensitive and didn’t like all the attention Owens received. McNabb was booed by Eagles fans at the 1999 draft and he never forgot it. The same fans embraced Owens from the second he arrived in Philadelphia after eight seasons in San Francisco. More than 20,000 people went to see his first practice of 2004 training camp at Lehigh University. That led to jealousy issues with McNabb that final escalated a year later.
After things got ugly in Philly, the locker room was divided between McNabb supporters and Owens supporters. If the mess was entirely Owens’ fault, some of the well-respected veterans who sided with him wouldn’t have done so.
But it was easier for Reid to dismiss a 32-year-old receiver who wanted more money than a 28-year-old franchise quarterback who never ruffled any feathers.
Owens ended up in Dallas and had three excellent seasons with the Cowboys before he wore out his welcome. He played one year in Buffalo and one more in Cincinnati.
Those who argue that Owens bounced around the league because teams couldn’t wait to get rid of him should consider that Rice played for three clubs, and Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton also played for five. Lofton is on the 48-member selection committee and voted for Owens last year.
This really shouldn’t be a difficult decision. It certainly doesn’t compare to the steroid dilemma Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voters face each year.
Terrell Owens is one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and earned the right to receive a gold jacket.
When he finally puts one on, getcha popcorn ready because it’ll be the most must-see induction speech ever.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press.