GEORGETOWN, KY. -- Terrell Owens' mouth is a big reason why some people don't like him. It never has bothered me much.
In a league of cliché-filled players, where coaches instill the hate-the-media mentality in most, Owens isn't afraid to let loose.
I like it.
But Saturday when I asked Owens an innocent question about Jerry Rice, his former teammate, looking for a stock, canned, accolade-filled answer since Rice is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, I never thought Owens would take a little shot.
The question: Your numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but if you average 1,000 yards receiving for six consecutive years, you still wouldn't catch Jerry. Do you look at his numbers?
Most players answer it, say some niceties, and that's that.
Not Owens, who is in his first season with the Cincinnati Bengals, having signed this week as a free agent.
"What he's done throughout his career is phenomenal, it's unparalleled," Owens said here during a break at Bengals training camp. "Look at the quarterbacks he had and the teams he's been on. The defenses early in his career pretty much were Cover-1, Cover-3. There wasn't a whole lot of double-teaming, two-mash and all this stuff. Joe and Jerry ate up coverage early on in his career. That's where he chunked up all those yards. It's hard for a receiver now to put up those types of numbers year after year. All the coverages are different. Guys are bigger, faster and stronger."
Translation: Rice had it easier than he did -- even if Owens admitted that what Rice did was impressive.
That's Owens: Candid and Controversial.
Owens didn't stop there. When I asked him about his reputation, and how he's never been in legal trouble, yet viewed as a problem player, he went off, taking a veiled shot at Ben Roethlisberger, who was involved in a much-publicized sexual assault case in Georgia this year.
"I pride myself with the fact that my grandmother raised me right," Owens said. "She taught me right from wrong. You see guys that had DUIs, domestic violence, club altercations, rape allegations, things like that. Myself, I get thrown into the same category with those guys. I don't see how that is. Again, it's ignorance if you ask me. I've had no off-the-field problems. It's mind-boggling."
He's got a point. Aside from his mouth -- and there are things he should never have said -- is he really that bad?
Owens' career numbers are impressive. He is sixth all time in catches (1,006), third in yards receiving (14,951) and will move to second with 258 yards this season. He's also third on the career touchdown reception list with 144.
Those are first-ballot numbers. Owens isn't counting on it.
"I know the media," he said. "It's going to be about my character. Even if it's about my character, I know character is clean. I have had no run-ins with the law."
He does have a laundry list of spats with teammates, sideline theatrics and some other team-breaking habits. They've all been magnified, in large part because he brings the spotlight on himself.
"I speak my mind," he said. "Look at the sideline things. They're blown out of proportion. You can't hear the audio, but the commentators seem to know what I'm thinking. If it's somebody else, then it's them being a team leader. Myself, it's a total opposite. You see any other quarterback (doing it) or any other team leaders doing that, that's what they say. It's that guy being fiery. He's being a team leader. He has passion for the game. If it's me, I'm being a distraction. They want to throw me off the team. They want to call me a cancer. It's unfair, but it's something I have to deal with. I dealt with it over the years. It is what it is."
Once again, it's a fair point. How can we in the media not love a guy who speaks his mind? Even if he jumps down our throats at times, it's a lot better than dealing with one-game-at-a-time talk.
And I know this: If I'm a coach, I'd much rather have my receiver crying for the ball then crying to get out of jail.