Before the 2010 Pro Bowl, the Pro Football Hall of Fame decided to name the best NFL players from the first decade of the new millennium.
Terrell Owens, the five-time All-Pro wide receiver, made the second team, behind Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison. The quarterback of that second team was Peyton Manning.
Of course T.O. was named to that incredible roster — between 2000-10, the man who had no limits to his game caught 856 passes for 12,627 yards and 123 touchdowns; during his incredible seven-year peak between his age 27 and 34 seasons, he averaged 82 catches, 1,220 yards, and 12 touchdowns per year.
Those numbers (and the longevity of his peak) stack up against the best receivers to ever play. Pro Football Reference considers T.O.’s peers to be Steve Largent, Tim Brown, Harrison, Moss, and FOX NFL analyst Cris Carter (a near-revolutionary receiver in his day).
Those are Hall of Fame numbers.
So why doesn’t Owens have a gold jacket?
For the second year in a row, Owens — unquestionably one of the greatest wide receivers to grace an NFL field — was denied his deserved space in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It’s petty. It’s small. And it undermines the credibility of the institution itself.
And it’s clear why this is happening — there’s only one logical reason for Owens’ exclusion:
T.O.’s reputation as a “diva” — his “get yo popcorn ready”, end-zone-dancing, devil-may-care, working-out-in-the-driveway-during-a-holdout persona — precedes him, and the 48 electors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame — the vast majority being old, white men — are clearly punishing him for that.
His snubbing clearly has nothing to do with his actions on the field — those are unimpeachable and elite — it has everything to do with his actions off it.
This is your cue to roll your eyes.
O.J. Simpson remains enshrined in Canton, and Marvin Harrison — who has never been fully exonerated for his alleged role in a 2008 Philadelphia shootout and the subsequent murder of the man who was shot in that gunfight — was admitted to the Hall of Fame with some impressive whitewashing last year (of course he was enshrined, he made that first team …), but apparently because he made too much noise, T.O. isn’t good enough to join the NFL’s sacrosanct fraternity.
(You’d think that all these football writers would have rewarded T.O. for helping them fill so much copy for so long. He was a godsend, not a scourge, but that’s ultimately irrelevant to his candidacy.)
When will it change? When will T.O. take his rightful place in the hall?
It was supposed to be this year. Owens had the credentials of a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but knowing the voting methodology and selection committee, it was predictable that T.O.’s personality would hinder his candidacy in the first year. Having to wait was payback from the selection committee for upsetting their sensibilities.
They were able to land their jab. This year, you (and Owens) had to imagine that the all-time great would get his fair due.
The fact that he didn’t brings into question if he ever will.
What does that say about the Hall of Fame? Owens is right — it is a flawed process.
Hall of Fames generally carry themselves with ridiculous conceit. It’s an incredible honor for the players enshrined, and this is to take nothing away from them — but the Pro Football Hall of Fame, like most halls of fame (except basketball’s, which might consider enshrining longtime season ticket holders soon) think they are the Vatican (and not the version from The Young Pope).
Again, Owens was one of the greatest players to take an NFL field — the kind of great that what the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to encapsulate.
Terrell Owens isn’t a saint, but he was a near-perfect wide receiver.
And until he’s enshrined, the Hall of Fame is incomplete.