Former Los Angeles Rams coach Mike Martz would disagree. Vehemently.
“‘Surprised’ isn’t the word,” Martz said of Owens being a Hall of Fame finalist over Holt and Bruce, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You can’t print how I felt when T.O. leapfrogged those two. That’s just plain out-and-out ridiculous.”
Owens is one of 15 finalists receiving consideration this week when the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee meets to discuss its 2016 class. The 42-year-old made the final cut on his first ballot, while Holt and Bruce have each failed in their first two years of eligibility.
Martz told Thomas he believes Owens' flamboyant nature played a part in his selection over the more subdued former Rams:
Had they promoted themselves, which was contrary to everything we were about, they’d probably get in without an issue. Had they pulled a T.O., they’re probably get in without an issue. That’s just not who we were.
If they big-timed it and did all that dumb stuff, they’d probably get in earlier. I think they’ll eventually get in. I don’t think that’s an issue, but it’s tragic that people think of them like that. If Marvin Harrison gets in, how could they not get in?
Of course, there are a few layers to this. Martz is obviously speaking from a position of bias. He was the Rams' offensive coordinator in 1999 when the Rams shocked the world to become Super Bowl champions and took over as head coach for the following six seasons. Three of Bruce's Pro Bowls and five of Holt's seven appearances came on offenses helmed by Martz.
It's also pretty clear that Martz is flat-out wrong here. Owens, despite all his antics on and off the football field, was a generational talent. His five first-team All-Pro selections are five times what Holt and Bruce had combined.
Owens is second on the all-time receiving yards list, third in touchdown catches and sixth in receptions. He's ahead of Bruce and Holt in all three categories. Pro Football Reference's approximate value metric grades Owens as being tied for the 35th-best player in NFL history. Bruce is tied for 99th, while Holt is hanging out in 127th.
Stephen White of SB Nation made such a point:
Funniest thing is Martz says "lets start with that." talking about career stats...when TO's are better than both lol https://t.co/vkUO1ECCTe— Stephen White (@sgw94) January 31, 2016
Outside of Super Bowl rings, which Holt and Bruce both own and Owens does not, it's impossible to conjure an objective argument that sides with Martz. Holt may have wound up with a comparable resume to Owens had knee injuries not cut his prime short, but Hall of Fame voters can't live in a "what if" fantasy land.
They have to judge production on the field. Holt and Bruce are both worthy Hall of Famers who may someday wind up in Canton. But they're deservedly behind Owens on the logjam at wide receiver.
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter