Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Terrell Owens rant.

Yes I know that all of this coverage, even the coverage that might not be read by a single person besides myself right now, feeds his massive ego and encourages his boorish behavior. Well in this case I cannot help myself.

I am sure you are aware of Owens being fined $9500 by the Cowboys for missing a meeting (and in what isn't mentioned as much in the coverage, a scheduled rehabilitation session for his "injured" hamstring). This is the latest in a long line of controversy that Owens has stirred up, from implying that (his then teammate) QB Jeff Garcia is gay (and if you have ever seen pictures of his one time and possibly still girlfriend Heather Kozar, well, if that is gay then I am the biggest queer in the world) to showboating on the star at midfield of the Dallas Cowboys (while a member of the San Francisco 49'ers) to his completely destroying the Philadelphia Eagles last year, he is a hurricane of flinging crap. And this is without even covering in any detail his end zone celebrations (Sharpie/pompoms/etc.). So why am I bringing all of this up now? Because I kept thinking about what would have happened if he had been forced to honor the trade to the Baltimore Ravens in 2004. And more to the point, the history of Owens and his performance.

I don't know if you remember one of the reasons why Owens balked at playing for the Ravens. The real reason is because he felt he should have been a free agent even though his agent at the time did not file the paperwork necessary to void the final 3 years of his contract. He had all but agreed to a rich contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now he was stuck playing for less. He also said that he didn't want to play with Kyle Boller (I will have to sound off on Boller at some point). But among all the reasons either bandied about by Owens and the teams or the real reason (money), there was one that got some airplay, but was eventually relegated to the back burner and all but disappeared as soon as the Ravens and 49'ers rescinded the trade and Baltimore sent Owens to the Eagles (where Owens signed that new contract and then one year later help out because the contract wasn't fair to him and the work he had done. We'll come back to that). It seems that when Owens and Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome met, Newsome said that both he and Owens were "two black guys from Alabama" and that "Sometimes you just have to slap a black man". Ignoring the racial aspect of the statements (not easy, but necessary. I am not black, but I think the old adage of being able to pick on your own applies here as it does in PC comedy clubs across the nation. For a wonderful examination of that concept, go pick up George Carlin's "Classic Gold", a double CD with three total comedy albums from Carlin. It will change the way you look at a lot of things), let's look at that second sentence.

"Sometimes you have to slap a...man"

Now let's look at Owens' history. When he came up with the 49'ers, who did he have across from him? Jerry Rice, one of his biggest childhood idols. It is hard to argue that he is NOT the greatest receiver in NFL history (although I have always held to the thought that if you gave the old school offenses the protection offered by the rules now along with the modern training and rehabilitation equipment that they would have set records that would still be standing. And I know that offensive and defensive schemes are much more complicated now, but for all the substitutions and packages in the world, football is still at the core 11 guys being on the same page, reading each other and their opponents. And nothing about that changes whether you are in a Cover 2 or a modified West Coast Offense with an emphasis on the H-Back). Jerry Rice kept Owens in line. So did the 49'ers QB at the time, a guy named Steve Young. No matter how much hubris a player has, no one would have the guts to question the Alpha Dogs that Rice and Young were at that time. And Owens pretty much kept in line and produced. Once Rice and Young were gone, it didn't take long for Owens to undermine Garcia and 49'ers head coach Steve Marriucci and make himself the sole focus of the team, and THAT was when the drama really started.

So he forces the trade, and forces it to the team that he wanted. And he got the contract that he wanted. And that first year he stayed pretty much controversy free (minor skirmishes/riling the other teams, not chipping at the foundation of his own. That would come soon enough). But in the middle of the season he got injured. A broken leg and a severely sprained ankle. And he pushes himself HARD to rehab it and get himself ready for the postseason. And the Eagles make it back to the NFC Championship game, where for the previous 3 years they have lost. He doesn't play, but the Eagles win the game and make it to the Super Bowl. Owens declares that he will play, no matter what the doctors (who said he was several weeks away from being fully recovered) said. He did play in the game, and ended up with 9 receptions for 122 yards (the fact that the Patriots' secondary was giving him plenty of space and concentrating on the receivers who could actually run with if not pass them is ignored when many look at that stat. Why focus on the guy with good hands but only one leg?). Everything looks good, right? Just wait.

In the offseason, Owens fires his agent and hires Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus is the "super agent" known for squeezing blood from rocks. HE and his baseball counterpart Scott Boras are so reviled by the respective clubs that teams have been known to avoid drafting/signing a free agent that is represented by them. Talk about fulfilling a stereotype. Anyway, next thing you know he is holding out and asking for more money because he has already outperformed his contract that was just negotiated one year previous and is now, according to Owens and Rosenhaus, obsolete. And THIS is where he makes it even worse. He starts questioning Donovan McNabb, his quarterback and (just one year ago) his best friend. The kind of quarterback he has always wanted to play for. Now he is saying that the team would be better off with Brett Favre as the QB. And now he is questioning McNabb's heart and desire and conditioning and leadership (or as he put it "I'm not the one who got tired in the Super Bowl").

This becomes the crux of my argument as to the real meaning of what Ozzie Newsome was saying. McNabb does respond, but he doesn't do enough to shoot Owens down. He doesn't establish that he is the Alpha Male on the Eagles, even though there is no question that he is. And if there is no question that why should he? Because if he doesn't then questions start to pop up. When the Alpha Male of the pack is challenged, he responds by attacking. If he wins he is still the Alpha Male. If he doesn't, then his time is done. Either way, there is no confusion among the pack. By not challenging Owens and slapping him back into place (Newsome?), he opened the door for Owens to divide the team. And he did.

The whole time, the Eagles handled the Owens situation as well as they possibly could. They did not, nor will they negotiate with a player who is holding out. They made no exceptions with Owens. They suspended him for the maximum allowed by the NFL for his conduct, and proclaimed they would deactivate him as soon as the suspension was over. Two days later Owens issued a public apology. They slapped him down. And even though Owens did apologize, it was obvious hat it was not sincere and the Eagles' organization knew that if they allowed him to return it would make things worse. They had decided to back McNabb, and they would not be swayed. It was the correct decision. McNabb's only real fault in the whole boondoggle was not speaking up enough. He is a quiet leader, one who commands respect. He thought that it would carry over no matter what, but there are times that you need to voice your thoughts when you are a leader. Without audible dissent to the challenges that Owens laid in front of the team, the team became unsure of who to rally around and lost its way. I do not expect that to happen this year, and anyone who has written off the Eagles is making a huge mistake. Soon will be my prediction column, and you will see what I mean.

Now Owens is in Dallas. Drew Bledsoe is his QB, and Bledsoe will get in the ear and (more importantly) in the face of anyone who questions his leadership. He is a decent to good QB. He is a great leader. Owens' coach is now Bill Parcells. There is no one who can challenge his track record, being one of very few coaches to lead 2 different teams to a Super Bowl (anyone besides him and Don Shula? If so, I cannot think of him), and he led another team to the AFC Championship game. He is in charge. Will they slap him down? Yes. Has anyone seen or heard his reaction to the fine? He immediately apologized, claiming that he, like everybody else in the world has done once or twice in their lives, overslept. He wanted to make sure that everyone knew that he was NOT challenging any authority nor was he trying to garner publicity. He almost sounded scared. Almost.

Parcells took it one step further. Owens has missed the bulk of the preseason and almost all of training camp with his hamstring injury. Parcells has said that until he can see him on the field and gauge his ability and figure out how to work him into the offense, Owens will not start, including in the regular season opener. Owens responded that there was 10 years of film to watch that could be used to figure it out. Parcells said no way. You show me on the practice field. Slap.

The most telling line was where Owens was describing the relationship between himself and Parcells. Owens said that it isn't where it need to be, but that it is a process. Then he said THIS...

"It's obviously a work in progress. At this point, there is no tension between us."

Does it sound like he is expecting trouble down the road? I know I am, and I cannot wait to see how Parcells slaps him.

The whole thing makes me wonder what would have happened if the trade to Baltimore had been upheld. Is Boller any kind of substitute for McNabb? Not even close at this point (as I said, I will sound of on Boller in the future, but I will say right now that I am not convinced that the kid is a waste or a failure). But on a team with Ray Lewis, would Owens have been slapped down? I am willing to bet YES. And with a coach who had won a Super Bowl in Brian Billick (I never got into the Andy Reid aspect of Owens' career in Philly. To me, he didn't do enough to stop Owens, but I felt like he was taking his cues from McNabb on that and letting the guy he has chosen as the team leader lead the team. If he had stepped in, it would have further undermined McNabb. But I don't think Billick would have let it get that far without doing some slapping of his own. And since, unlike McNabb, Ray Lewis is on the other side of the ball from Owens, it wouldn't have been undermining for him to act), Owens would have been kept in line, I think. It is all conjecture, we'll never know what would have happened. But I like to think that it would have been a lot different if Ozzie Newsome's words had been put into practice. There is more to them than meets the eye, and they seem to be more correct than anyone wanted (or still wants) to admit.

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