I had a lengthy conversation with Terrell Owens this week. It was one of the more fascinating talks with a player or former NFL player (or almost anyone) I've ever had. It touched on subjects of race, media, social constructs, perception and how, in many ways, the NFL mirrors society.
The focus of the talk was Dez Bryant and his alleged blowups on the sideline during the Cowboys' game against the Lions. I say "alleged" because it now appears at least a portion of the rant wasn't actually Bryant ranting or being selfish, but being positive (though it remains unclear what Bryant said to tight end Jason Witten that caused another player to separate the two men).
I tweeted many of Owens' comments after we initially spoke. But there is more to this story. Much more.
When I first saw Bryant go bonkers, I had the same thought many likely did: He's demanding more passes. Owens was one of the few who defended Bryant, and his initial analysis that Bryant wasn't necessarily just complaining but was instead showing passion turned out to be accurate.
Owens next made two intelligent points to me.
First: There's a double standard when it comes to outbursts and race.
"I don't want to say it, but I do wonder if race plays a part in the double standard," Owens said. "Why is Brady treated one way, and Dez another?"
That would be Tom Brady, who has had multiple sideline outbursts against coaches and teammates. Brady has been criticized by some, but many in the media also have praised Brady for his passion and said his anger was understandable.
"I put myself in the position where Dez was, because I've been there, and I understood what he was going through," Owens said. He added with a laugh, "I had an outburst or two. I got passionate. When I got into an argument with a coach when I was in San Francisco, I was portrayed as selfish. A quarterback does that, he's a hero."
To Owens, there is a double standard, and I can't totally disagree. Though I would say the comparison is more about position-ism than racism (mostly).
There is no more protected and cherished position in all of sports than the NFL quarterback. We build the position up to the point where quarterbacks are untouchable (unless they're named Blaine Gabbert).
When a player like Bryant or Owens gets in the face of a quarterback, he is challenging this paradigm, and the blowback is fierce. The fact that, in many of these cases, the quarterback is white and the player is black exacerbates that dynamic.
"I think the media reinforces all of this," said Owens. "Brian Billick ripped Dez because he wants to (reinforce) this thing that quarterbacks are untouchable. You can't challenge them or be passionate towards them. If you do, jerks like Billick say you're a troublemaker."
Billick was critical of Bryant during the broadcast and then even went to Twitter to rip him.
This issue can be applied to other segments of society as well, like politics. Our perceptions, how we were raised, our beliefs—all of this comes into play when one of these outbursts occur. We translate and process the images differently.
Second: a player's past.
"I don't agree with everything Dez has done off the field," Owens said. "My point is he's trying to become a better man. He's working with the Cowboys to get his life in order. He's maturing. He's becoming a very good person. What bothers me is whenever something happens on the field, his past is brought up. That has nothing to do with anything. This is the media trying to justify ripping him."
OK, this is fascinating.
Is it fair to incorporate Bryant's past into his on-field behavior? Does a lack of maturity off the field automatically translate into a lack of maturity on it?
I admit: I lumped in Bryant's past troubles with some of his on-field antics, and Owens has made me question that. If you truly examine it, athletes can compartmentalize. They block out distractions and focus on football all the time. So it does make sense that an arrest or dispute off the field doesn't bleed into what happens during a game or practice.
There is also a truth about Bryant that hasn't totally been incorporated into the media machine, and that is that, by many accounts, he is indeed getting his life in order. Both Bryant and Owens are doing things to make their lives better including even simple things like having a website or working with promoters to get their names out there in positive ways.
People love to hate Owens, and he hasn't been perfect, but he gave me plenty to think about. As he often does.
2. Rice beats Megatron in every possible way
This week, because some people are dumb, there was a much-discussed notion that Calvin Johnson—aka Megatron, aka Diddy's alter ego, aka Badass Dude—was now better than Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. So, let's talk about that. Mmmkay thanks.
None of this is to disparage Johnson. Let's get that clear. He is, obviously, unbelievable. But there needs to be some respect for history.
Johnson is the more stunning physical specimen—he stands at approximately 6'5" and weighs 235 pounds while Rice was approximately 6'2" and 200 pounds. So Johnson has a size advantage. Both have a strong work ethic, though Rice's was legendary. I've "worked out" with Rice before, and it was a life-altering experience.
This is where the comparisons end.
Sixteen of Rice's 21 years in football were spent in San Francisco. For almost the entirety of those 16 years, no one was better. He stayed at the highest possible level (mostly) for all of those seasons. Sixteen big ones.
This is Johnson's seventh season.
The dedication it takes to play at the highest level for 16 years is almost superhuman. No one has been able to duplicate it. No one. In the entirety of football, no one has done what Rice did.
Rice also played in an era in which corners could still mug wide receivers. Rice had Deion Sanders jamming him at the line and bumping him through fat chunks of his routes. Because of the rules now that favor offenses, Johnson gets a ton of free releases.
Rice played with Joe Montana and Steve Young, true, but again, beyond the skill comparison, the longevity issue is critical. Megatron would have to play at this elite level for nearly another decade before he started to approach just Rice's San Francisco years, let alone his three decent years in Oakland.
In 16 seasons with the 49ers, Rice started 224 of 238 games and had 1,281 catches for 19,247 yards and 176 receiving scores. He averaged 15 yards per catch.
Johnson has started in 93 of 99 games for 8,657 yards and 61 receiving touchdowns. There's almost no chance Johnson catches Rice because, again, Rice played at that high level for so long.
I could boost my argument with the fact Rice owns every significant receiving record. I could. But I won't. That would be like using a phaser on a field mouse.
Megatron is spectacular. His bust will be in the Hall of Fame just like Rice's.
Comparing him to Rice is still problematic—and by problematic I mean dumb.
3. Andy Dandy
For much of the past few seasons, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been the weak link on that offense. That's no secret. What's happened recently is that Dalton has become, well, damn good. I mean. Damn good. Dalton has 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games. He was the first to beat the Jets defense for five touchdowns since Dan Marino 25 years ago.
If Dalton is no longer a weak link or game manager, and he stays like this, the Bengals are more than capable of beating any team in the AFC, anywhere, at any time. Their game is portable. It can go to Denver or Kansas City and win.
4. Medical proof of idiocy
Former NFL safety Rodney Harrison told NBC Sports Radio that he thinks Josh Freeman might have faked his concussion because…hell, I have no idea what Harrison's logic is.
What this does rather well is show why what Harrison said isn't just foolish; it's medically dangerous. Former players should never play doctor.
There's something just intrinsically bad about Harrison's insinuation. It shows why some players, in the league and out of it, still don't understand the dangers of concussions.
I present what is, without question, the greatest flop of all time. It happened during the Seahawks-Rams game and is a thing of beauty, courtesy of Tavon Austin:
That flop was even better than these.
6. Tony Gonzalez wants out?
I think Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez wanted the hell out of Atlanta. I don't think he wants to go out like this. And I think his comments to ESPN's Vaughn McClure proved he wanted to be traded.
7. Lovie Smith to Tampa Bay could happen, except for maybe one small thing
One of the biggest discussions happening now between some league executives is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have all but decided to fire Greg Schiano, and it will happen at the end of the season. Not a shock.
The team would then focus on hiring Lovie Smith. Somewhat of a shock.
The Buccaneers' attraction to Smith isn't a surprise—he deserves another shot. Good coach. But I'm not sure the Buccaneers would hire him, because I think Smith will command a higher salary and the team is, well, pretty damn cheap.
There will be a large amount of interest in Smith. My guess is he could be the most in-demand candidate of this round of coaching hires (unless Nick Saban decides to return to the NFL). The Bucs would have competition and may be forced to pay more, which they would hate because the Bucs are, well, pretty damn cheap.
8. Fred-Ex goes to the hoosegow
Former Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell was recently sentenced to prison for tax crimes, according to TMZ. I got to know Mitchell a little when he played, and he always struck me as sort of a strange dude.
This case is interesting for one reason, and it will be presented without comment. Mitchell told the court that he suffered from brain injuries during his NFL career and deserves a lighter sentence so he can rehabilitate his health issues.
9. Close games
Eighty of 120 games (66 percent) this year have been within seven points in the fourth quarter. That's the third-most games that close through Week 8 in league history. And that is yet another example of why the NFL is so popular. Even when the games are awful—like the Seahawks-Rams game on Monday—the fact that they come down to the last series or even the last play gives the already popular NFL an even bigger boost.
10. A Gronk TV show?
This could be, um, interesting. And by interesting I mean really, really awful.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. His Ten-Point Stance column appears on Wednesdays. All stats and historical info via the NFL, unless noted.
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