Football Mythbusters: Terrell Owens, Cancer or Competitor?

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Football Mythbusters: Terrell Owens, Cancer or Competitor?
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

MYTH: Terrell Owens is declining in skill as he ages, and he absolutely destroys locker-room chemistry.

FACTS:  First of all, there is no way you can say Owens is on the decline.  Since the start of the 2000 season, Owens has only failed once to catch for 1,000 yards, and that was in the 2005 season where he only played seven games. 

In that season, despite the off-field drama with Donovan McNabb, Owens caught 47 passes for 763 yards and six touchdowns.  That averages out to between six and seven receptions a game, 109 yards, and just under one touchdown per game.  Projecting those averages onto a full 16-game regular season would give you 107 receptions, 1744 yards, and 14 touchdowns.

Owens’ play has been phenomenal this decade, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  He has been one of the most dominant receivers on the field and to suggest he is on the decline is just wishful thinking by those who are annoyed by his antics.

There sure are plenty of antics to be annoyed by.  Thankfully, they have gotten fewer and farther between as the years progress, but there is a clear history of behavior issues with Owens.

I’m not talking about his touchdown celebrations—professional football is a form of entertainment, and nobody understands that better than Owens.  Whether he’s pulling a Sharpie out of his sock, borrowing a cheerleader’s pom-poms, or just doing a crazy dance, it’s fun to watch T.O. score.

It’s when his team isn’t scoring that there is a problem.  It started in San Francisco.  When the 49ers weren’t doing very well, Owens loudly demanded the ball more often and publicly blasted his quarterback in an interview with Playboy

He met Donovan McNabb at a Pro Bowl, the two enjoyed playing together, and McNabb asked the Eagles to deal for Owens.  The 49ers used this opportunity to get rid of their headache, and shipped Owens to Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick and defensive end Brandon Whiting.

This change of scenery worked for the Eagles and T.O. the first year, and Owens was an immediate contributor: He had 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns.  Then, despite an injured ankle, Owens played through pain in the Super Bowl for nine catches and 122 yards.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, Owens decided he wanted to renegotiate his contract that offseason and hired agent Drew Rosenhaus.  The situation got ugly, with both Owens and Donovan McNabb criticizing each other in the media and making themselves look foolish.  After seven games, the Eagles suspended Owens and then deactivated him.  That offseason, he was released and signed by the Cowboys.

After a finger injury in the beginning of his first season with Dallas, Owens overdosed on Hydrocodone in what was labeled as a suicide attempt.  The police report stated that Owens answered “yes” when asked if he intended to harm himself.

In Michael Strahan’s book Inside the Helmet, Strahan says he doesn’t believe T.O. tried to commit suicide.  He says that athletes are told what to take by their trainers, and don’t even question it or know what they are putting into their bodies; so he wouldn’t be surprised if a trainer or doctor made a mistake and Owens accidentally overdosed.

Was Owens really trying to commit suicide, or were his statements that he wanted to hurt himself just the ramblings of a man in a drug-induced stupor?  T.O. is probably the only person to know that for sure. 

Though T.O. had a statistically good season, the Cowboys lost by one point in the Wild Card round against the Seahawks.  The next year, the Cowboys had a phenomenal season, finishing 13-3 before losing to the Giants in the divisional round.  Up until this point, Hydrocodone controversy aside, everything seemed great.

Along comes the 2008 preseason.  Owens claimed during this point that the Cowboys lost in the playoffs because they didn’t throw to him enough.  During the regular season, everything started off pretty calmly: After an early-season win over the Green Bay Packers, Owens told media he didn’t mind not getting as many passes, and having to run-block more. 

After the team’s first loss of that season, Owens changed his tune.  He said that the Cowboys lost because he didn’t get the ball enough.  Later in the season, the Cowboys completely imploded, finishing 9-7 and ending their season with a 38-point loss in Philadelphia.

For a team that looked so good on paper, a common sentiment was that the Cowboys severely underperformed in 2008.  The most popular explanation for a 9-7 season by such a talented team was a lack of locker-room chemistry, and owner Jerry Jones promised he was going to focus on the character of the team. 

Owens, whose blow-ups had alienated him from his previous two teams, was looked at as the poster boy for bad locker room behavior, and was sent packing on March 4th, 2009.  Within three days, he was signed by Buffalo, and it was seen as a sign of desperation on Owens’ part.

Once he signed with Buffalo, there was a lot of speculation regarding if T.O. would succeed there, or if the move would backfire.  Critics said it was only a matter of time before he would be unhappy in Buffalo and destroy the chemistry there.

However, there is no reason to believe that Owens will not have a successful year in 2009.  Up until this point in the article, I have focused on what causes people to say negative things about Terrell Owens.  In the past, Owens has given people reasons to say negative things.  This year, though, they should have a lot more positive words about Owens.

It should be noted that Owens is at his worst when his team is losing.  He was never a problem for the 49ers until after their 7-9 season.  Though his contract was a large part of his dispute with the Eagles, it should also be noted that they had a 4-3 record at the time Owens was suspended. 

He is often criticized for demanding the ball more often, but it only happens after losses.  As mentioned earlier, Owens said he didn’t mind not getting the ball as often.

When the team isn’t winning, Owens wanting the ball isn’t a sign of a diva or a crybaby —it is a sign of a highly competitive individual wanting more of an opportunity to help the team win.  If his desire for more passes his way was truly due to selfishness, he would demand the ball all the time, not just during losses.

On top of that, Owens shouldn’t have to worry about losing as many games as the Cowboys did last year.  The Bills’ acquisition of him dramatically improved their offense.

Last year, there was no real deep threat to complement Lee Evans, so opposing defenses were able to stop the passing game by double-covering Evans without fear of any other receivers hurting them.

With the addition of Owens, the Bills now have two dominant receivers, and double-covering one of them will leave room for the other to get open.  Though there are concerns about Buffalo’s offensive line, defenses will not be able to send as many men to rush the QB without leaving unfavorable matchups in the secondary. 

If teams start to blitz heavily, then the Bills can punish them with quick-developing slants or drag routes to beat the blitz.  With a much more potent passing game, defenses will have to back off and play against the pass more, making more running room for Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.

If the Bills’ defense is even mediocre, then their offense will keep them in games, similar to the way Arizona’s loaded passing game carried them last season.

Even if the Bills end up with a worse record than Owens would like, he will still probably be on his best behavior.  He was signed to a one-year contract.  Though in his new reality show he optimistically said, “Buffalo gave me one more year to showcase my skills,” that’s just a sugar-coated way of saying, “I have a year to prove I’m worth it.”

A one-year deal is pretty much a trial period.  At age 35, Owens has to understand that this is most likely his last stop with an NFL team.  If he has a blow-up that leads to a departure from the Bills, nobody is going to want him.  Similarly, if he doesn’t perform well on the field, he will be sent packing and have a hard time finding a fifth team to sign him.

Because this is his last chance, and because he has all the tools around him to be a productive part of the Bills’ offense, T.O. should shine under the spotlight in 2009.  Getcha popcorn ready.

 

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