The Terrell Owens Effect

Terrell Owens has played 219 games in which he has had 1,078 receptions, 15,934 yards and 153 receiving touchdowns (add to that 3 rushing touchdowns).  Let those Hall of Fame worthy numbers soak in for a few seconds.

I have been following Owens since he entered the league in 1996. I always wondered who would replace the great Jerry Rice once he retired and/or left the San Francisco 49ers. Owens spent his first eight seasons with the 49ers, dominating defenses at will and scoring touchdowns like one does in backyard football. With his success in San Francisco, Terrell Owens transformed into “T.O.” on the football field.

Owens played for five teams throughout his career (six if you actually count the Seattle Seahawks – but let’s assume five for now) and I want to reflect on what transpired on those five football teams. I will take into account what I witnessed as a football fan, what sports analysts concluded & who the media “portrayed” Owens to be. Getcha Popcorn Ready.

San Francisco 49ers

Owens started his career with the 49ers and spent majority of his playing days on this team. Having the opportunity (and privilege) to work alongside wide receiver Jerry Rice was a blessing for Owens. He learned the intricacies of what it takes to sustain a great football career.

Owens would learn how to maintain a balanced diet and a strenuous work-out regime during his tenure in San Francisco. In the off-season, he focused on staying in shape and studying the game. During the film sessions, he broke down the plays, asked questions and honed his craft to become a complete football player. Owens did not differ between practice and game time; he gave his all on each and every play — he had one speed.

This is when Terrell Owens turned into the proverbial beast (in the best way possible) we call T.O.

Fast forward to Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young retiring and enter into the Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens era in San Francisco. Both Owens and Garcia had their ups and downs, as do any good quarterback/wide receiver combos (Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, Young and Rice, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin). Their chemistry began to deteriorate when Garcia was banged up and did not have the ability to get Owens the ball. You would see a visibly frustrated Owens on the sidelines screaming and yelling.

However, do you know what he was actually saying? No, you don’t.

Owens then made a comment that he should not have made (smelly rat?). He was at fault and that was uncalled for — his first mistake. However, Owens was set to be an unrestricted free agent the next year and if you knew how the 49ers ran their organization at the time, you knew that he was not going to get paid. It was simple, the 49ers in the early 2000’s never paid top dollar to high profile players. It was not going to happen.

Owens was then “traded” to the Baltimore Ravens, which was a debacle. Owens’ agent forgot to file the right paperwork for him to opt out of his contract with the 49ers. All said and done, Owens was eventually granted his wish and that trade was nullified. All of a sudden Owens became a “distraction” because he called out Garcia for playing poorly and he did not want to be traded to the Ravens. As mentioned before, Owens should not have stooped to name calling, but him not wanting to play for Baltimore was not that big of a deal.

The media started to portray Owens as a terrible teammate because he demanded better play out of his quarterback, wanted to get paid and not be traded to the Ravens.

That’s terrible, right? Wrong.

Owens deserved top dollar at the time (he and Moss were the top two wide receivers in the NFL). The media reported that the 49ers were not going to deal with any of Owens’ antics and supported his former quarterback Garcia.

Eventually, Owens was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and yes, Garica was let go (fired or cut — however you like to digest it) the same year Owens exited San Francisco. Appears to me that Owens was right about Garcia, he was on the decline and Owens pointed it out.

Albeit, it should have been behind closed doors, but his comments were not inaccurate. Till this very day, the 49ers have yet to find a wide receiver of Owens’ caliber. The fact of the matter is, Owens was let go due to financial reasons (not behavioral reasons). The 49ers were not going to dish out a big contract to any player, yet alone Owens.

Garcia was let go due to performance reasons and the so called “we support you” mantra was put to rest. Today, most football fans think the 49ers let Owens go because of his so-called “antics,” which is a gross misinterpretation.

Philadelphia Eagles

When Owens signed with the Eagles, everyone (including myself) thought a Super Bowl was inevitable. We all know that the combination of Donovan McNabb and Owens was lethal. Let’s face it; the duo was good, really good.

Let’s fast forward to the game in the regular season where Owens went down, sustaining a significant injury when safety Roy Williams horse-collared him, leading him to break his foot. Super Bowl hopes were diminished, fans were shocked and Owens was sidelined with an injury that would take an average football player six months to fully recover (Owens returned in just six weeks).

After surgery and a few screws being inserted into Owens’ ankle, a determined Owens rehabbed day and night. The Eagles won their games during the playoffs and earned their way into the Super Bowl. During Super Bowl week, the media was more focused on Owens and his return, rather than the game itself.

Can we blame Owens for that? I don’t think so.

Reporters started to mumble the word “selfish,” since they felt he was taking away from the team’s collective achievement. Excuse me? The man is rehabbing his tail off, the media themselves are choosing to focus on him, but he gets the “selfish” title? I guess I am missing something.

The man put his body and his career on the line to help the team win the Super Bowl and instead of being called “heroic” he is being labeled selfish. This is where I personally feel Owens’ career started spiraling out of control (off the field).

The Eagles had Owens sign a medical waiver which stated that if the injury was to worsen, they would not be obligated to compensate Owens for the following year.

Guess what? Owens signed the waiver and decided to play to help his team win.

Some may argue that that was for selfish reasons, but who would want the spotlight so much that they would risk their entire future for it? Rationally, it does not add up.  He did not worry about the following season, he did not worry about having a career ending injury nor did he care about what the media was saying about him. He cared about one thing only —  winning.

Owens had 9 catches for 122 yards in the Super Bowl on one foot. He wasn’t the reason the Eagles lost the game nor was it McNabb’s fault. It was a team loss, case closed.

The following year was out of control. We all know what happened. In short, Owens wanted another contract with more money. He felt like he deserved it. The media bashing began, but he felt he deserved the salary increase, especially after his stellar MVP-worthy performance in the Super Bowl, that too, on one foot.

Somehow, McNabb was asked a question about Owens’ contract situation and McNabb failed to support his fellow teammate. This rubbed Owens the wrong way, especially because McNabb was lobbying for RB Brian Westbrooke to get a new deal.

Owens thought that McNabb may have envied the attention he was getting. The city would chant “T.O.” every time he got on the field. Owens saw that McNabb was starting to act differently, so when he was asked about the Super Bowl loss, Owens retaliated with, “I wasn’t the one who got tired during the game” — taking a shot at McNabb — his second mistake.

Things started to go haywire.

The icing on the cake was when Owens responded “yes” to a question on national television about whether if it would have been different if quarterback Brett Favre was to be playing for the current Eagles team.  McNabb was playing hurt at the time and Owens gave an honest answer with what he thought was a fair assessment. McNabb did not take that lightly.

Well, sit ups on driveways (I’d kill for abs like his), back and forth in the media and a suspension later — Owens was cut by the Eagles. Both McNabb and Owens have acknowledged since then that they could have handled the situation better, but it was too late.

Recently, I ran into McNabb at Sweet Water Tavern and he himself told me he regrets how he dealt with the adversity with Owens. Somehow, Owens got all the blame. Yes, he deserved some, but not all. Owens today owns up to his mistakes in Philly.

Dallas Cowboys

Owens’ years in Dallas were probably the most intriguing. It appeared all was well for majority of the time, but then anonymous sources began to leak stories to major news outlets about how dysfunctional the team really was. Jerry Jones wanted Owens, Stephan Jones didn’t — that’s all what it basically came down to.

Yes, Tony Romo and Owens had their differences, again most good quarterback/wide reciever combos do. In the end, it was not Owens’ fault that in a playoff game Romo fumbled the snap against the Seattle Seahawks. It was not Owens’ fault that the New York Giants man-handled them in the playoffs the following year.

One thing Owens started to notice (and so did I and most Dallas fans) is that Romo was looking to his tight end Jason Witten a bit too much. I vividly remember in a prime time game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, Romo threw six interceptions and the Cowboys still had an opportunity to win the game at the end.

It was the final drive and on a third-and-long play — Romo threw the ball to Witten when Owens was wide open down the field. Owens came to the sideline visibly upset, angry and disgusted by Romo’s play. Again, which competitor wouldn’t be? I was furious with Romo as well — there was no need to throw the ball to Witten on that play.

Witten isn’t known for touchdowns nor does he have the ability to take the rock to the house. It was simply a bad read on Romo’s part. It was not only Owens who felt that Romo was targeting Witten too much, reports indicate that all of the Cowboys’ wide receivers felt that way.

The major fault that Owens had in Dallas was that he wanted the ball more. If that’s a crime, then so be it.

Yes, there are times that he should not fuss about it, and if he has to, do it behind closed doors. The coaching staff should have been a bit more careful of keeping things behind closed doors. Obviously somebody was leaking stories (some true and some false) but if the coaching staff of the Cowboys had a better leadership style in place, perhaps Owens would have retired a Cowboy. All teams have problems; it’s how they deal with them behind closed doors that determines the outcomes of the season.

Owens is an emotional football player. He cared for Tony Romo. He actually cried for Romo when the media was throwing him under the bus (I know you remember that press conference). All Owens wanted was to win and he saw that wasn’t happening, which aggravated him. He genuinely felt that if he had gotten the ball in crunch time, perhaps he could have helped his team win.

His stint in Dallas is still a mystery to me. Interestingly enough, Owens also signed a contract extension with the Cowboys, but was cut the following season because of his antics in the locker room. Are you kidding me?

Till today, not one of his teammates in Dallas speak poorly of Owens. Dallas thought they would get rid of the “cancer” and go on to win many Super Bowls with Romo. I wonder how that’s turned out? It appears he wasn’t the problem in Dallas and people now are coming to realize that.

The problem may still be associated with the team, perhaps?

Regardless of what actually happened, I find it hard to believe that Owens was the prohibiting factor for Dallas to win the Super Bowl. If that was the case, then why has Dallas not accomplished anything since Owens’ departure? Romo should have multiple rings (and I am not talking about the marrying kind) by now. I guess the Romo to Witten combo is just not cutting it.

It’s a valid question — think about it.

Buffalo Bills

At this point in his career, Owens had seen many ups and downs. He was devastated by being cut by the Dallas Cowboys. It came as a shock to him and most of the fans around the NFL. The Bills offered him a one year deal worth $6.5 million dollars. This was a year Owens could have shown his so-called ‘true colors.’ The media was waiting for Owens to explode and divide the Bills’ locker room as well.

Before the season started, the Bills coach was fired, the starting quarterback was benched and Owens was left playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick. People thought this would anger Owens, but it did no such thing.

He was a role model in Buffalo — he even got the key to the city — and Fitzpatrick had nothing but good words for Owens. The Bills had a terrible year, but Owens would come in and play hard each and every week. He had no offensive line, no legit running game and a quarterback who lacked Pro Bowl skills.

Owens could have easily packed it in — not practice hard and not seem to care on Sundays (especially with the way things were going with the team). Owens was the complete opposite.

There is a famous saying by wide receiver Randy Moss, “I play when I want to play.” Well, Owens plays any time he gets the chance to play. He plays hard on every down, regardless of being the primary or secondary option. This is where his competitive juices come into play.

All the man wanted to do is help the Bills win. I didn’t see any so called “drama” or “antics” during his one year tenure with the Bills, but still there were rumblings within certain media outlets about Owens’ Bills tenure.  That’s outright absurd.

Cincinnati Bengals

Oh boy, the “TOcho Show” was being developed when Owens joined Chad Johnson (Ocho Cinco) and Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. Owens had a lot of fun while playing for the Bengals. Unfortunately, the Bengals as a team had an unsuccessful year.

The Bengals failed to make it to the playoffs and people started to point the finger at Johnson & Owens. I don’t think the Bengals missed the playoffs because of Owens or Johnson. They simply missed it because they did not have a good team. The offense was pretty efficient but the defense was below average.

I would like to point out that Owens led the Bengals in receiving that year (2010). He beat out Johnson at his own game in his own town. It kind of reminds me of LeBron James coming to Miami and basically having Dwayne Wade step aside.

There were some leaked stories about how Owens was a distraction in the locker room, but for the most part that wasn’t the case. Did I forget to mention that the sources that reported Owens as being a distraction were “anonymous?”


Shortly after the season with the Bengals, Owens tore his ACL. After reconstructive knee surgery, Owens maintained he could still play at a high level. He held a try out that did not really attract the attention he had hoped it would. After sitting out the year in football, Owens got a shot to play for the Seahawks.

Owens ran a 4.4 forty yard dash last year and made an appearance in a few preseason games. From what I saw, he looked sharp on his routes, got separation from defenders but failed to catch a few balls during games. Owens had a few major drops, which was the reason why he was cut. He was out of football the previous year, there had to be some rust on the man. Physically and mentally he was there, but those drops were one of the main reasons why he got cut from the Seahawks. It was nothing related to his locker room behavior.

Owens is a complex person, a lot of people, especially famous athletes are but that does not make him a “locker room cancer.” Granted, he could have handled certain situations differently in life — but is that not the case for any human being?

Besides for his situation in Philadelphia, I don’t see a good enough reason for why he should not be able to retire from the game on his own terms. At this point in his career, he comes with a low risk contract which could translate into high reward. Most importantly, Owens has never been arrested or been convicted of a major crime (unlike many other current football players).

Garcia, McNabb and Romo are the only three quarterbacks that Owens supposedly had issues with. Most of his concerns were performance related, if not all. It is safe to say, in hindsight, that Owens’ qualms may have been legitimate, considering none of these quarterbacks have had any relative success without him.

Imagine what outcomes could have developed if the coaching staff at the time actually listened to Owens’ gripes and focused on improving the team overall. Super Bowl victories?

Recently the 49ers have worked out wide receiver Austin Collie — really? It’s hard to fathom that Owens is being judged by his past and not his present.

That’s the world we live in today and it’s sad to see that he may have played his last football snap.  But it only takes one team. Owens has faith that something will develop, as do I. After the injury to Michael Crabtree, the 49ers could actually use him this year. If nothing develops, then it is safe to assume that Owens is a future Hall of Famer and I, for one, am looking forward to his speech.

I’ve got my popcorn ready.


  1. great read. TO deserves more respect 2nd best WR of all time. Some say randy moss but everyone forgets that moss had Chris Carter opposite him drawing double teams as well. Who did TO have opposite him JJ Stokes and James Thrash. I hope for TO to play somewhere he deserves his chance.. He had just under 1000 yds rec when he went down with the knee injury and then rehabed and ran a faster 40 time than he did when he came into the league. Would love to see him prove everyone wrong again