Terrell Owens personified the stereotype of star wide receiver as self-centered diva. Opponents loathed his act, which is not noteworthy, but many of his own teammates couldn’t stand it either, which is.
Owens also happened to be among the most productive players in the history of the NFL. Inactive since 2010, he still ranks second in career receiving yards, fifth in touchdowns and sixth in catches. Pro Football Reference named him a starter on its All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
A Hall of Fame shoo-in, right? Uh, no. Last Saturday, the voting committee deliberated Owens’ candidacy for 45 minutes before concluding he didn’t belong in the 2016 induction class.
Seems there was a logjam at wide receiver, and Marvin Harrison — denied enshrinement last year — got chosen during a process similar to the take-a-number-and-wait routine at a Department of Licensing station. Having bided his time, the thinking goes, Owens will be among the five modern-era players selected to the Hall next winter.
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Or maybe not.
Owens’ high-maintenance attitude might explain why he played on five different teams, an oddity for such a dominant force and justification, voters decided, for their thumbs-down verdict.
As one committee member, New York Daily News football writer Gary Myers, said on the Dan Patrick Show: “The bottom line on T.O. is he was so disruptive. Now with Lawrence Taylor, you don’t consider the off-the-field stuff. It’s a mandate from the Hall of Fame; it’s only what you’ve done on the field. The argument that was made in the room, and I agree with this, is that what T.O. did in the locker room is part of an extension (of the field).
“He’s a Hall of Fame player that five teams couldn’t wait to get rid of. So what does that tell you about how disruptive he was?”
Although contractual issues involving potential free agency contributed to the transient nature of Owens’ career — we’re talking about the NFL, after all — it’s reasonable to assume his absence was not mourned whenever he changed places.
But here’s the problem with using Owens’ “disruptive” reputation as a reason to deny him enshrinement: If his behavior was relevant enough to give voters pause in 2016, it figures to be relevant in 2017 and all the years after that.
Seriously? An all-time great wide receiver is barred from the Hall of Fame because he could be a polarizing personality in the locker room?
The discussion on Owens’ penchant for alienating those around him brings to mind the baseball career of Rogers Hornsby. He retired with a .358 lifetime batting average and few friends.
“The greatest hitter for average and power in the history of baseball,” Ted Williams said of Hornsby, who died in 1963.
Like Owens, Hornsby abstained from drinking and smoking and still was regarded as a head case. Like Owens, Hornsby possessed rare athletic skills that were mitigated by his inability to develop basic social skills. Like Owens, who wasted a fortune in doomed investments, Hornsby had lifelong financial problems. (A racetrack regular, he was as bad at betting as he was good at hitting.)
During Hornsby’s prime, between 1926 and 1929, he played for the Cardinals, Giants, Braves and Cubs. He batted .317 for St. Louis in ’26 and .380 for the Cubs in ’29, and yet the man regarded as the best right-handed hitter ever to hold a bat wore four different uniforms in four years.
When Hornsby was eligible for Hall of Fame induction, in 1942, he got through on a first-ballot landslide. No matter that he was an ornery cuss who chafed teammates and clashed with management.
Sheer talent trumped everything else.
If Owens’ Hall of Fame induction was stalled because only five modern-era players can be admitted in any given year, I understand. He waits for his turn, is granted admittance and whatever happens, our planet sustains its orbit in the galaxy.
But please don’t try to convince me that playing for five different teams, over a 15-year career, is a deal-breaker.
Terrell Owens may have disrupted locker rooms, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all who were disrupted.
He destroyed defenses.
John McGrath: firstname.lastname@example.org