With the 81st pick, in the 1996 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected one of the most unique characters of recent time. In 13 seasons, Terrell Owens, known to most as "T.O.", has been both the savior and the antichrist of three franchises.
When San Francisco welcomed him to the league in '96, Owens was living his dream. Number 81 wore the proud colors of one of the league's most historic franchises and lined up on the field next to Steve Young and his idol, Jerry Rice. The greatest wide receiver of all-time was teaching him how to play the position! Apparently, Owens was a quick learner. In just his third season, the young talent was a 1,000 yard receiver, reaching the endzone 14 times. In four of his next five seasons with the Niners, Owens would eclipse 1,000 yards again. He quickly became a threat to any secondary; a mismatch for any corner. Stardom brought even more mismatches for Owens, though; particularly, his quarterbacks.
Owens made it very clear in 2004 that he wanted out of San Francisco. Philadelphia became his new home. The city brought Owens a great deal of "brotherly love" early on. Pro-Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb finally had a notable receiver to throw to and it paid dividends. In just 14 games, McNabb and Owens hooked up for 14 TDs and 1,200 yards. The Eagles were 13-1, conquering every obstacle in their way. Until they were hit with their biggest obstacle: the loss of Owens. Roy Williams, a future teammate of Owens, brought down the star with one of his infamous horse-collar tackles, fracturing #81's fibula and severely spraining his ankle in the process. One crack! and a successful season seemed bleak for the Eagles. But Owens made it his mission to recover for the Super Bowl, only asking that his team get there for him. They did just that and Owens kept his promise. A questionable Owens caught 9 catches for 122 yards on his partially-healed ankle in a gutsy performance on that super Sunday. The Eagles fell short, but Owens gained the league's respect. A respect that he would soon lose.
At almost the flip of a switch, Owens became a cancer in the Philadelphia locker room. He fought with teammates and insulted both players, McNabb included, and the entire Philadelphia organization. The once loved wideout became the crutch of yet another team. This wouldn't be the last time.
Next stop: Dallas. America's team welcomed Owens with open arms. There, Owens' big smile was back, and he was ready to win a championship. Drew Bledsoe didn't aid in the process of winning that championship, but halfway through the season, a young Tony Romo seemed like he could in the near future. After a disappointing playoff loss, in which Romo was responsible for (see here), Owens made an uncharacteristic move. He didn't blame the loss on Romo or bash him in any way. He stood behind his quarterback. Yes, that's right. Owens stood behind his quarterback. In the very next season, Owens and the Cowboys seemed poised for a shot at the title. Romo and Owens were about as right for each other as Aladdin and Jasmine.
After a playoff loss to New York left Dallas in shock and at the short end of the straw once again, things began to change in "Big D". Romo's relationship with Owens soon resembled his relationship with Carrie Underwood; it got ugly. Owens didn't dig his key into the side of Romo's pretty little souped up four wheel drive, but he did demand the football. He also demanded attention from the press. The prima donna in Owens surfaced once again, and yet another franchise sank because of it. The Cowboys went 9-7 in 2008, falling short of the playoffs after being favored to win the Super Bowl when Tom Brady went down. Talk about underachievement.
Owens has overachieved at his position, but underachieved as a teammate. In 13 brilliant statistical seasons, Owens has ZERO rings to show for it, and remains his own #1 fan. He isn't remembered for his impressive performances or remarkable catches. Instead, he's remembered for his fine-inducing touchdown celebrations, his narcissism, and the problems he caused every franchise he's ever been a part of.
So what now for Owens? Will he ever get the championship he's been seeking his whole career? The fact that he hasn't changed at all in the last 13 years makes me think he'll retire the jersey without a championship. I can't see him signing with any Super Bowl bound team this year or any in the future for that matter. Owens is undoubtedly one of the best players to ever play his position, but he's been the catalyst of his own demise throughout his career. He's the type of player that could have been the final piece to the Super Bowl puzzle for many franchises. But he's also held the two teams he could have won a championship with back. He may retire a Hall of Famer, but barring a complete personality change, he won't retire a Super Bowl champion.
But as long as he loves himself, he should be content.
Image taken from Google Images