|Terrell Owens is a six-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. (Getty Images)|
The last chat I had with Deion Sanders was several years ago. It was at the Super Bowl and the conversation was casual and quick. He was asked about the receivers in modern football he'd least like to go against. It didn't take him long to say one name.
Sanders' words went something like this: The media needs to leave Terrell Owens alone. Great player. Future Hall of Famer. Let him be. Stay out of his personal life. Something like that. But I remember Sanders stressing Owens was a Hall of Famer. He did so repeatedly.
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Then Sanders was gone. His main point stuck with me: If the greatest cover corner of all time thought Owens was a Hall of Famer, that was good enough.
It's something Sanders would repeat in the various media platforms in which he's orbited. Sanders was also saying something that many in football have stated privately about Owens for some time. That Owens' personal tribulations might affect his Hall of Fame candidacy.
To be blunt, Owens has been a jerk for much of his career. A first class, certified me-first jerk. Not sure there is a quarterback in the history of football he hasn't tossed under a bus. His stratospheric jerkiness has done something besides tarnish him personally. It has also, in some cases, clouded the judgment of otherwise extraordinarily intelligent and knowledgeable men, like my friend Clark Judge, and a bevy of others.
There is no other explanation for how a player with such blatant Hall of Fame credentials wouldn't be considered one. This is called Terrell Owens Stockholm Syndrome.
Owens is a six-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2000s All-Decade team. Some other players on that team include: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning (second team), LaDainian Tomlinson, Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey and Ray Lewis. The receivers on that team are Owens, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison and Torry Holt. That's some pretty fine company.
Owens is on that team because at one point in that era only Randy Moss was a more feared and devastating receiver. Owens was pure jerk but he was also pure greatness. He terrified defenses. Owens was one of the best combinations of power, speed and skill the NFL has ever seen.
He was pure beast.
A jerky, constantly fined and flagged celebratory beast, but a beast.
He qualifies for the Hall in almost every way. The numbers, which football romantics love, are incredible. He's second all-time in receiving yards with only Jerry Rice having more. He's tied with Moss for second all-time in receiving scores with again only Rice ahead.
It goes on and on. He's only one of five players in history to reach 150 touchdowns and six to reach 1,000 career catches. Owens either owns or shares almost every significant receiving record.
So you're telling me that if Owens wasn't such an obnoxious jerk, he wouldn't receive more Hall of Fame support than he does?
Whether a player helps third graders cross the street or spends his career as a drug-addicted cad is irrelevant. The quality of the individual doesn't matter when it comes to the football Hall of Fame. If the Hall of Fame was about being a good dude Lawrence Taylor would still be seeking entrance.
You want more? His famous game-winning touchdown catch as a San Francisco 49er, Owens dragging his exhausted and beat up body into the end zone, is one of the more famous in that team's history, and that's saying something. He displayed heart and toughness returning from a broken leg and playing in the Super Bowl as an Eagle against the Patriots, getting nine catches for 122 yards. Owens was critical of the media after that game saying Brett Favre would have been praised far more for making a comeback like that. He was right.
Owens' jackass-ness was always the Kryptonite to his greatness. Owens never understood that from the time he came into the league, to when he was cut this week by Seattle and still complaining about not getting the ball enough.
The latter years of Owens' career was indeed a joke, but a broken down Johnny Unitas played in San Diego his last season. Rice played with the Raiders. Emmitt Smith finished in Arizona. Whether Owens finished in the NFL, the UFL, the XFL or the WFL doesn't matter. His Hall path has been long established.
Sanders, to his credit, always understood Owens, both his incredible talent and the up-chuck inducement Owens causes in some people. No. A lot of people. But Sanders could always differentiate the Hall of Famer ... from the jerk.