Make no mistake, Terrell Owens is probably the Professional Athlete I’d Least Like To Be Stuck In An Elevator With. On a personal level, he’s everything I hate about the modern player – self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing … every kind of “self-” but self-critical. His histrionics add nothing to my enjoyment of the game (except that, when he celebrates a touchdown, I know I’ve got time to run to the refrigerator). If Terrell Eldorado Owens had never been born, I wouldn’t like pro football one iota less.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a terrific talent or hasn’t had a fabulous career. Despite my loathing for him, I have no trouble seeing beyond his behavioral issues to the, well, how can anyone ignore 139 touchdown catches, the second highest total in NFL history after Jerry Rice’s 197? The man has more than twice as many TDs as Art Monk (68) – and it’s not like they played decades apart. In fact, their careers almost overlapped. Art retired after the ’95 season; Owens broke in the next year.
And yet, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News wonders if statistics alone can get T.O. into the Hall of Fame, given his lack of Super Bowl rings and general churlishness. Rick, for those unfamiliar with him, writes some of the best football stuff in the business. Do yourself a favor and check it out sometime. He also happens to be on the HOF selection committee and knows that, for wideouts, “numbers are no longer the [automatic] ticket” for admission.
But still … 139 touchdowns. And really, it’s more than that; it’s 139 and counting. Granted, some receiving stats can be misleading – like receptions. With the One-Bump Rule and all the other legislation that’s been pushed through, it’s a lot easier to complete a pass now than it used to be. But a touchdown is a touchdown in any era. Or to put it another way: There are no empty-net goals in the NFL.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Owens get up to around 160 or even 175 TDs before he’s through. Despite his advancing age – he turned 35 in December – he’s still scored 58 times in his last 68 games. That, in itself, is remarkable.
I just did a quick check of the Likely Suspects and came across only four other receivers who’ve ever had that good a stretch at any time in their careers: Rice, leather-helmet legend Don Hutson, Lance Alworth and – you’re gonna love this last one – 5-foot-9 Tommy McDonald, who had 60 TDs in 68 games with the Eagles from 1958 through early ’63 (many of the passes thrown by a fellow named Sonny Jurgensen).
That’s right, Randy Moss (135 touchdowns) and Marvin Harrison (128) have never done it. Neither did Cris Carter (130) or Steve Largent (100). In Moss’ most productive 68 games, TD-wise, he scored 57 times. And Randy – as with Rice, Hutson, Alworth and McDonald during their 68 Games of Going Bonkers – was much younger than T.O. is now (a mere 27 at the end).
Owens is a phenomenon any way you look at him – a good phenomenon, a bad phenomenon, a worse phenomenon. He’s also, in my mind, an absolute lock Hall of Famer. Yes, he’s missing a ring, but name one club he played on that should have won the Super Bowl … or for that matter, that he kept from winning the Super Bowl.
He didn’t keep the 2004 Eagles from winning; Tom Brady and the Patriots did. Nor did he sabotage Dallas’ chances two years ago; the Cowboys got upset by the Giants in their first playoff game because they couldn’t cover Amani Toomer – who ain’t no T.O.
But then, few receivers are. If Owens doesn’t make it into Canton – without a whole lot of waiting – they might as well just turn the place into an amusement park. Not that I’ll be laying any bouquets beneath his bust. As I said, the guy is one of the all-time jerks, a high-maintenance whiner who’s alienated teammates everywhere he’s been. But isn’t justice supposed to be blind?
– Dan Daly