In January of 1999, the NFL's San Francisco 49ers were in a tight playoff game with the Green Bay Packers, and Terrell Owens was having a bad day.

A wide receiver, Owens was one of the 49ers' big stars, but in this game he had four dropped passes and a fumble. With just 14 seconds left in the game, the 49ers were trailing 27-23 on the Packers' 30-yard line. Quarterback Steve Young fired a pass toward Owens in the end zone — which the Packers defense was ready for, as they camped safeties Pat Terrell and Darren Sharper near the goal line. But Young's threw the ball hard, connecting with Owens before the Packers defenders could deflect it. However, they did arrive in time to smash into Owens viciously. Even so, Owens held on, and the 49ers won.

Immediately after the catch, a Fox sideline reporter found Owens, and I was in for a shock. I expected Owens to be joyously celebrative, as he was (and is) well known for over-the-top touchdown dances. But no; Owens was crying, and with his voice cracking, could only yelp "Praise Jesus" over and over again. It was pretty funny, kind of like watching Billy Graham on ecstacy. But it was also touching.

Today (November 9, 2002), Owens is a great receiver, perhaps the best in all of American football. He is also a bit of a head case, which makes him controversial and intriguing, much like Randy Moss or Barry Bonds.

Owens' skills are undeniable. He is big, strong and fast; so much so that he is essentially uncoverable. Cornerbacks in the NFL are usually picked for their speed instead of their size, and Owens is so big that defenders don't have access to the ball — similar to how Shaquille O'Neal dominates the NBA. Some teams match up a larger player against Owens, but he can outrun them. Besides, the 49ers feature other large receivers too, such as J.J. Stokes, Tai Streets and Eric Johnson, and there are only so many big defenders to go around.

But with Owens, there's the other side to the coin. He seems to be in a constant state of feuding with his coach, Steve Mariucci; past beefs have been what Owens deems the conservative nature of the offense and the fact that he doesn't get the ball as much as he'd like to. Earlier in the 2002 season, in a 10-point win against the Washington Redskins, Owens complained about Mariucci's decision to run out the clock at the end of the game instead of packing on more points, saying that the team lacked a "killer instinct." Mariucci and Owens' teammates mostly disregard these comments, not wanting to get in an argument with their star receiver, but also not wanting to stand behind foolish statements.

And then there's the touchdown dances. After he scores, Owens will almost always do a little booty-shake, most often with his elbows close to his body, hands up and/or out, and feet dancing to whatever rhythm is in Owens' head. His most famous celebration came earlier this season in a win over the Seattle Seahawks. A financial adviser of Owens and Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs (who was attempting to cover Owens that day) was sitting near one end zone, and Owens got an idea. He found a sharpie pen — the kind with the big felt tip — and put it in his sock. After he caught a touchdown pass later in the drive, he took the pen out, signed the football on the spot and threw it to his friend. The 49ers were amused, Springs thought it was pretty funny and the other Seahawks were offended. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren called it "a dishonor to everyone who has ever played the game," which is a bit over the top. The NFL, for its part, immediately instituted a "Sharpie rule," which states that players are not allowed to put pens in their socks.

Terrell Owens is not the worst person in the NFL. Ray Lewis is an accused murderer and was convicted of obstruction of justice; Randy Moss has insinuated that he takes plays off. Linebacker Bryan Cox becomes a psycho on the field; he once said that he imagines that the ball-carrier has raped his daughter, just so he can build up enough hate to make a vicious tackle. Nevertheless, Owens is a complicated person; a weirdo, if you will. From my perspective, I just watch him play and try not to worry about things I will never make sense of.

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