November 29, 2005

T.O. Could Be Done For Good

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T.O., T.O., T.O. – the sporting news has been overflowing with the name. But this time the situation surrounding unemployed receiver Terrell Owens is deserving of the media circus it has attracted. This isn’t just another T.O. story. This is huge. HUGE. Clear your head. Find your happy place. This is the biggest thing to happen in sports in a long while. Sporting pillars are being shaken. On the heels of arbitrator Richard Bloch’s decision to uphold the Eagles’ original suspension of Terrell Owens, a single question is ringing in sports fans’ ears everywhere: how can it be that the best receiver in football is out of a job? By all measures, this is wrong, insane, pathetic, impossible – take your pick.

Over the past year, Owens has proven himself to be the filthiest of rats, the lowest of the low and the best receiver in football. His story is simple: he does – and says – whatever he wants, whenever he wants to. And in his spare time, he catches touchdowns. You can accuse him of being selfish, obnoxious and cocky, but one thing you can’t accuse him of is being a phony. His behavior has been consistent, and the Eagles and Andy Reid got exactly what they asked for when they stole him away from the Ravens last offseason. No one cried over T.O.’s 20 touchdowns. Not a single tear was shed while the team watched Owens collect 124 receptions for a combined 1,963 yards over the past season and a half. But once the cordial Dr. Jekyll transformed into Mr. Hyde, the Eagles started finger-pointing and playing the blame game. But why? They got precisely what they asked for. Any culpability should be placed directly on Philly’s shoulders.

But now that the curtain has come down on T.O. Part II, I cannot help but wonder what the next act in this saga will bring. Where will he go? What team, or coach, can handle him? And the $64,000 question: will he ever play in the NFL again? I know it sounds absurd. I know. Many believe there’s no way a guy with that much athletic talent and on-field upside can be turned away because he doesn’t know the meaning of the word “tact.” But if we slow this avalanche of drama down, there are a few good reasons that T.O.’s next job interview could result in a resounding “NO.”

Owens is 31 and not getting any younger. So he has little motivation to play for a team in the process of rebuilding. The man is looking to win now. But, as enamored as he is with himself, by position, T.O. is a complementary player. Without a talented and smart quarterback, T.O.’s ability means squat. There is no way he is going to sign on to play for a team, regardless of its record, if somebody like Kyle Orton is calling the plays and taking the snaps. Given these prerequisites – a team with realistic Super Bowl aspirations and a receiver-friendly, pass-first quarterback and offensive system – No. 81’s options are somewhat limited.

Now, I will agree his ability is indisputable. He is the best receiver in football. But as every NFL owner will agree, statistics may be dazzling, but mean nothing if they don’t translate into rings and trophies. And so far, although T.O. has collected 101 touchdowns and appeared in five Pro-Bowls, he has never won a championship – a credential sorely lacking on his resume.

And how many head coaches and GMs look at T.O. right now and think they can control him? Take Bill Parcells, the archetype of a strong-armed coach who has complete power over his team. He preaches teamwork and discipline. He knows how to measure statistics versus the intangible baggage that comes with many players (spotlight Keyshawn Johnson). That being said, if Parcells’ calculations leave T.O. out on the street, I can’t foresee any other coach feeling man enough to step up to the challenge. The most restraint Owens has shown in the past 18 months is refraining from outright calling Andy Reid a “girly man.” He doesn’t know the meaning of teamwork and has no idea what it means to be a supportive teammate (spotlight Donovan McNabb, Hugh Douglas, Jeff Garcia, and probably every pee-wee athlete ever to play on his team). A coach cannot rationalize introducing a player onto a cohesive, playoff-contending team with all this in mind. Can you imagine a quarterback with any pride accepting T.O. onto his team after T.O.’s public denouncements of the last two QBs he’s teamed with? He’d be like Adam Banks joining the Mighty Ducks, except this isn’t a Disney movie, and there isn’t much chance of a happy ending.

The situation is complicated. Owens’ desire is to play for a winning team. But will a winning team want him? There are some playoff-contending teams right now who are a big-play receiver away from realistically making a run at landing a spot in Detroit (Cowboys, Broncos, Falcons, and Bucs to name a few) but will they take the risk that the Eagles took? They might see T.O. as that critical missing spark, but those same teams could just as easily view him as a cancer. It’s hard to imagine that after the Eagles experience, a coach would ever again place the ticking time bomb that is Terrell Eldorad (Eldorad??) Owens in the middle of his locker room, and risk jeopardizing team chemistry and morale (which have been shown to be as vital as having a receiver who can make the big play). If his on-the-field actions are a secondary consideration to his off-the-field antics, then the chance of him being signed to a team in the near future seems improbable.

In early 2005, Philadelphia Magazine ran an article in which the author wrote: “Terrell Owens rescued Philadelphia. He brought glamour and glitz and an electrifying jolt of good vibrations to the city.” Hmmmm. Just talk to Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie now and see what they have to say about the matter.

Good luck on finals.

Ben Kopelman is a Sun Staff Writer. 2 Legit 2 Quit will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Ben Kopelman