Amid heavy criticism of the decision to omit receiver Terrell Owens from the Hall of Fame, at least one voter has decided to take his reasoning public. I respect Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News for doing that; however, I disagree with his assessment.
Carucci posted on Saturday a lengthy column explaining his thought process behind rejecting Owens. I’ve pulled out the quotes that strike to the heart of the matter. They’re presented and analyzed below.
“[Hall of Famer and Hall of Fame voter Dan Fouts] looked at the fact that at the height of Owens’ career, three teams — the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas Cowboys — all were willing to let him go,” Carucci writes. “Owens’ inability to stick with the Niners, Eagles, and Cowboys is significant because it goes to the heart of the problem that numerous people with whom I have spoken about him have: He was a horrible teammate.”
It’s one thing to apply a strong label. It’s quite another to support it with facts. Who are these people who insist Owens was a “horrible teammate”? What did he do — specifically — that made him sufficiently “horrible” to justify ignoring his uncanny skills, abilities, and performance? And how do we distinguish Owens’ activities from those of other Hall of Famers, including one who stabbed a teammate in the neck with scissors?
“He was a divisive force that the people who ran those teams had no problem cutting loose,” Carucci writes. “I’ve heard critics say there were extenuating contractual circumstances behind Owens’ departures, but I don’t buy that for a second. If you want to keep a player, you find a way to keep him. The job security of coaches and G.M.s is far too tenuous to jeopardize by saying goodbye to a great player that can help you win. You don’t make those moves unless there is something else that leads you to believe he is doing more to hurt than help.”
One of the critics to whom Carucci refers most likely is me, and Carucci has dismissed without any apparent fact-gathering or objective analysis my position that the “teams couldn’t wait to get rid” of Owens narrative is deeply flawed.
First, Owens spent eight years in San Francisco. Eight years. Hall of Famer Steve Young publicly has vouched for Owens. And the 49ers would have kept him beyond Season No. 8 if his contact hadn’t voided.
Second, the Eagles had a way of doing business a decade ago that was premised in large part on signing players to cap-friendly contracts and not re-negotiating them. When the Eagles flatly refused to reward Owens for a tremendous 2004 season, capped by a heroic effort to return from a broken ankle to play in the Super Bowl, the countdown toward implosion started. If Owens had been fine with a contract he had outperformed, the Eagles would have been fine with keeping him.
Third, the Cowboys actually gave Owens a new contract with a $12 million signing bonus after only two years with the team. While the 2008 season apparently entailed issues that resulted in owner Jerry Jones (a Hall of Famer who supports Owens’ candidacy) moving on, his first two seasons there were deemed to be good enough to trigger a new contract, not a pink slip.
“The common assessment of Owens was that his greatness was more than offset by the way he consistently pulled apart the fabric of each of those teams,” Carucci writes. “That is where Hall-of-Famers, such as Fouts, have their biggest issues with Owens. That is where the many other Hall-of-Famers with whom I spoke about all the finalists told me, to a man, they did not want Owens on their team. I simply could not ignore that.”
The first line of that quote seems nonchalant, but it’s very significant. Owens’ “greatness” wasn’t borderline; he’s either the No. 2 or No. 3 best receiver in the history of the league. The suggestion that his on-field performance was “more than offset by the way he consistently pulled apart the fabric of teams” is, in the absence of clear facts and not simply a word salad, stunning.
But the clear facts don’t matter, apparently. Carucci’s column unwittingly concedes that it’s ultimately a popularity contest. And if enough of the actual Hall of Famers, who don’t have votes but who apparently have influence (at least when the voters want them to have influence), believe based on media coverage and reputation and overblown narratives that a guy was a “horrible teammate” whom they don’t want on their “team” (they’ll take O.J. Simpson instead), Owens apparently is not getting in no matter how great of a player he was.
“If voting for a Hall-of-Famer is strictly about numbers, then a computer could spit out the results,” Carucci writes. At least a computer would be fully and completely objective. And at least a computer wouldn’t let factors that aren’t reliable or completely vetted to override numbers better than every receiver in NFL history not named Jerry Rice generated.