If I described a particular NFL player, and just gave you his lifetime stats – 1,078 receptions (5th all time), 15,934 yards (2nd all time), 153 touchdowns (tied for 2nd all time) — you’d think that player was one of the best players to ever touch a football.
If I told you that same player had one of the gutsiest performances in Super Bowl history, playing just six weeks after suffering a broken leg, you’d think he possessed incredible heart and passion for the game. If I told you that same player was also one of the best on the field that day, catching nine passes for 122 yards, you’d think that game should be remembered as one of the best individual performances ever.
If I told you that player recently suffered an ACL injury that might jeopardize his illustrious and successful career, you’d feel bad for him. You’d think it’s not fair for such an accomplished player to end his career that way.
But then I would tell you that player was Terrell Owens. And you’d probably chuckle to yourself and say he deserves what he got.
That’s the type of reaction T.O. elicits with fans. On the field, he is one of the best players ever to play the game. Off of it, he is a polarizing prima donna who alienates teammates, coaches and fans.
Yesterday it was reported that T.O. suffered an ACL injury this off-season and last month, he received surgery to repair it. Best-case scenario, the injury could take six months to heal. The realistic diagnosis is that Owens won’t ever see the field during the 2011-12 season.
What’s worse is that it remains unclear just how T.O. sustained this injury.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortenson:
“One source said Owens was hurt while on site taping a television show for VH1. Another source said Owens tore the ACL during a personal workout but other sources could not confirm the cause of injury.”
If TO did get injured while taping a reality show, it would be the final dagger in a troubled and tarnished legacy. At 37, there’s not much sand left in the hourglass of Owens’ career. He would have to rehab this injury for a year and try to sign with an NFL team at close to 39-years-old, making him a senior citizen in this generation’s NFL.
If this is the end, it’s doubtful you’ll hear people express sadness his career is over, or argue if he’s the best receiver to ever play the game. They’ll probably bring up the sit-ups in the driveway incident, or the “that’s my quarterback” press conference, or the Donovan McNabb feud, or maybe even his VH1 scripted drama, Single Ladies.Those same people won’t mention T.O.’s incredible work ethic and off-season training regimen, which helped him have a near Pro-Bowl season last year with the Cincinnati Bengals, his 16th season in the NFL. They’ll forget to bring up his 20-reception performance in December 2000, which was then an NFL record (and coincidentally Jerry Rice’s last game with the 49ers). They’ll probably neglect to give Owens credit for being one of the most dangerous and productive receivers ever to play the game.
These reactions were caused by T.O. himself. He threw teammates under the bus, argued with the media, and when things went wrong, generally blamed everyone else. He wanted the ball and he wanted to win…he just wanted to make sure he got the attention and accolades to go with it.
He was a weapon for offensive coordinators on Sundays, but a headache the rest of the week. Typically first ballot Hall of Famers don’t play on five different teams during their NFL careers.
But for all of his faults, T.O. was an incredible player; a specimen with the ability to carry a team. It may seem unlikely, but if there’s a player that can come back from a year-long injury to play again at nearly 40, it’s T.O.
And if Owens never plays a football game again, I’ll remember him for his immense talent. For his explosiveness and his ability to throw hapless defenders off of him as he sprinted down the sideline for touchdowns. I’ll remember his creative touchdown celebrations, his ability to step up in the biggest moments, and his breathtaking performances.
I’ll also remember the circus he reveled in after the game. The boneheaded press conferences, the constant complaining, how self-absorbed he was, and his constant attention-seeking.
T.O.’s legacy probably won’t be a perfect one. Fans have every right to remember him as a malcontent with a bad attitude.
Just don’t forget that that malcontent was an really good football player too.