They said his football career was over.
When future Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament back in April, critics speculated that this might very well be the end of the second-most prolific receiving career in NFL history.
With 15,954 receiving yards and 153 receiving touchdowns, Owens ranks second to only Jerry Rice on the all-time list in both categories.
And with 1,078 receptions, Owens is just 25 catches away from surpassing Tim Brown (1,094), Cris Carter (1,101) and Marvin Harrison (1,102) to move into second place on the all-time list in that regard as well.
At 37 years old, having been selected to six Pro Bowls, a five-time first team All-Pro selection, and after having literally torn apart the NFL record books, most would say that T.O. has nothing left to prove.
He played with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, and became a 1,000-plus yards and 14 touchdown receiver.
He sent Jeff Garcia to three consecutive Pro Bowls.
He took one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the NFL at the time in Donovan McNabb, and made McNabb look elite (a huge leap from the level he was playing at over the course of his entire career prior to having the privilege of playing with Owens).
It wasn't tough to tell:
- McNabb's career quarterback rating from 1999-2003: 79.3; (Lower then Elvis Grbac's career 79.6)
- McNabb's quarterback rating in 2004 with Owens: 104.7; (Higher then Steve Young's career 96.8)
- McNabb's career completion-percentage from 1999-2003: 57.0; (Lower then Alex Smith's career 57.1)
- McNabb's completion-percentage in 2004 with Owens: 64.0; (Higher then Tom Brady's career 63.6)
- McNabb's career YPA average from 1999-2003: 6.2; (Lower then Billy Joe Tolliver's career 6.3)
- McNabb's YPA average in 2004 with Owens: 8.3; (Higher then Peyton Manning's career 7.6)
Then Owens was off to Dallas where undrafted quarterback Tony Romo went from having attempted zero passes over the course of his illustrious backup career to becoming one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in NFL history.
Owens was punished for becoming the most productive receiver in the history of the Dallas Cowboys by being sent off to Buffalo, where he remained productive while playing at about half-speed (55 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns) on a disgraceful Bills team that ranked 30th in passing in 2009.
Owens knew that even if he gave 150 percent, the Bills would fail to make the playoffs and have absolutely no chance of contending for a Super Bowl. How inspiring.
Then he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, and proceeded to have one of the most productive seasons a 36-year-old receiver has ever had. Don't let his 72 receptions for 983 yards and nine touchdowns fool you—Owens only started 11 games in 2010.
Highlights of the season came during a Week 4 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, where Owens caught 10 passes for an astounding 222 yards and one touchdown (only to have the Bengals lose to a ferocious Browns team, 23-20).
Against the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, a 36-year-old Owens tore up the league's No. 1 defense with 10 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns. And the Bengals still lost.
Funny how Owens can jump from team to team, contribute so much, and still manage to shoulder the blame for an organization's shortcomings.
All the while, his critics remain incapable of substantiating exactly how Owens' presence off-sets his production; 15 seasons later, we’re still waiting to hear a good argument to that effect.
It just needs to sound right for the masses to adopt an anti-Owens belief as factual, which was also the case after the star receiver tore his ACL back in April.
The experts raved, "There's no way a 37-year-old is going to come back from a torn ACL after an offseason lockout."
Right, the same way it just "sounded right" to assume that no man with a broken leg was going to come back in under two months to put on a dominating performance in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Now Owens is eyeing an on-field comeback sometime within the first few weeks of the 2011 NFL season.
We've heard the "T.O.'s done" speech before, and he's come back year after year—regardless of the team, regardless of the quarterback—and continued to produce.
With his "locker room cancer" reputation yet to be substantiated, a recovering, hungry Terrell Owens shows promise to be able to return to the NFL in 2011 and do exactly what he's done his entire career—make plays, sell jerseys, make the NFL a ton of money, pull up television ratings, score touchdowns, and (still) take a senseless beating in the media for his efforts.
Doesn't have to be fair; never has been. But as a great man once said, "it is what it is."