The final chapter in Terrell Owens' polarizing career will be written Saturday when he finally enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He so frequently celebrated himself throughout his career that it's fitting this story won't conclude in Canton.
If the NFL wasn't a league that frowns upon any speck of selfishness, this would have been Owens' moment to be celebrated for his individuality. One of the greatest wide receivers of all time would've basked in the limelight at the Hall of Fame enshrinement, one of the rare stages where the NFL celebrates the individual.
But he won't. This traditional induction was not meant for Owens, because the NFL never accepted him. It did all it could to diminish his influence because of its animosity toward his brash personality.
One of the most self-absorbed players we'll ever see, T.O. loved him some T.O. He knew he was great at football. Through his words, his touchdown celebrations and his play, he made sure everyone else knew this, too.
He backed up all the trash-talking that came out of his big mouth to become an NFL legend. Owens is a classic example of how we criticize athletes who lack confidence yet chastise them for having too much. He often reminded us of this hypocrisy by coining his famous phrase that still rings true.
"They hate to love me."
Long after his final game in 2010, the hatred remains. His personality irritated many during his era, which included many prominent media members on the Hall of Fame's 48-person selection committee. The committee, comprised of one media representative from each pro football city (two from New York), went out of its way to prolong the inevitable. T.O. has a first-ballot resume, but it took three years for the committee to even consider him as a finalist—let alone as a Hall of Famer. It broke away from the longstanding practice of limiting selection criteria to a player's on-field performance and suddenly considered Owens' behavior in the locker room "an extension" of the field.
"He's a Hall of Fame player that five teams couldn't wait to get rid of. So what does that tell about how disruptive he was?" Hall of Fame voter Gary Myers said on The Dan Patrick Show in 2016 after Owens wasn't inducted during his first year on the ballot.
You want to know who else played for five teams, went to six Pro Bowls and was considered a "disruptive" wide receiver? Randy Moss. It didn't stop him from becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year, despite trailing Owens in career receptions and receiving yards.
Owens' emotions were the driving force behind his success, but they also brought out the worst in him. After eight seasons, the 49ers traded him to the Eagles in 2004 after a clerical error kept him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, an oversight that angered him. That same year, Owens implied to Playboy that Jeff Garcia, his quarterback with the 49ers, was gay. Owens has since backed off that remark, and Garcia was one of nearly 30 former teammates and coaches to vouch for Owens' Hall of Fame candidacy to the committee.
As "divisive" as Owens' behavior was portrayed to be throughout his career, he was never charged with a crime.
You want to know who was? Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
He was one of three men charged with murder in the slayings of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker that occurred in 2000 after Super Bowl 34 in Atlanta. At his trial, Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and the murder charges were dropped. He also was fined $250,000 by the NFL for violating its personal conduct policy.
But that didn't stop Lewis from becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year.
"We are only supposed to assess players on what they did on the football field," Scott Garceau, a member of the Hall of Fame committee who presented Lewis' name for consideration as the Baltimore representative, told Yvonne Wenger and Mike Klingaman of the Baltimore Sun. "For instance, if a player had three DUIs, that's something we're not supposed to bring up. We're to judge them on what they did between the lines.
"There was no conversation about Ray. It was like the room knew he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that nothing more need be said."
The committee, which has just five black members, played by different rules when evaluating Owens. It went by the same double standard we see in today's NFL that justifies Tom Brady's sideline antics as "passion" when he's yelling at a coach or player but deems Odell Beckham Jr.'s passion as a distraction.
So why would Owens want to go to Canton? That would be like being an uninvited guest at a family reunion. They clearly don't want you around.
Instead, T.O. will do what T.O. has always done. Owens took control. He will celebrate his moment how he wants.
Owens will return to his college, UT-Chattanooga, for his Hall of Fame induction. It's a smaller stage than the one he would have had in Canton. But for once, the NFL can't ban what props he can use. There won't be a referee penalizing him for excessive celebration as he requests Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" to be the first and last song played at his VIP afterparty.
While the Hall of Fame says it refuses to honor Owens individually at its ceremonies, in an era when individuality is celebrated, Owens set the example for NFL athletes to pave their own way. He showed that there is no "right way" to play the game. He proved that you can be an NFL legend without having your personality stripped from you. He re-emphasized that your identity is worth fighting for.
T.O. is a cultural symbol for those redefining greatness who have been neglected just for being themselves.
"Hall of Famer like Terrell Owens, even though they wanna overlook a n---a," LE$ spits on "Neva."
Get your popcorn ready. It's gonna be a show.