When you compile the list of Terrell Owens’ 10 greatest moments, you realize his list is unlike any other. That’s fitting.
Many of Owens’ most memorable moments aren’t a great catch or monster game, though he has plenty of those as well. During and after his career, Owens was one of the most controversial figures in the NFL. We remember him just as much for alienating himself from multiple teams or some hilarious celebrations and boasts as we do for any catch or run he ever made.
There haven’t been many Hall-of-Fame careers more complicated than this one. Get your popcorn ready for the list of Owens’ 10 greatest moments:
10. Skipping Hall of Fame induction weekend
Owens skipping the traditional Hall of Fame induction ceremony to do his own speech at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sums up how Owens did everything his own way.
Owens, upset that he was passed over twice by Hall of Fame voters (and on this matter he is absolutely correct, it’s embarrassing how someone who is eighth in receptions, second in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns in NFL history wasn’t a first-ballot choice), decided he’s not going to the ceremony this weekend. That led to a million hot takes from everyone, including many fellow Hall of Famers.
Even long into retirement, Owens is still the center of attention.
9. Get your popcorn ready!
Owens had some funny celebrations. I’ve always liked him taking a 49ers cheerleader’s pom poms and shaking them after a touchdown. But only one celebration became an everlasting meme, and one of the greatest photos ever:
8. “That’s my quarterback”
Do you realize the “That’s my quarterback” press conference was more than 10 years ago? Still to this day, you might have a friend who will imitate the teary-eyed Owens, as he stood behind a podium in his sunglasses and gave his respect to Tony Romo after a playoff loss. Aside from the quotes enduring for more than a decade, it was a glimpse of a different side of Owens, one who was willing to cry as he defended his teammate against unfair criticism.
7. Pulling out the Sharpie
Owens taking a Sharpie from his sock on “Monday Night Football” and signing a football after a touchdown in Seattle is one of the greatest celebrations ever, and not even the most memorable celebration of Owens’ career.
Before the NFL decided to let players be human beings and celebrate after touchdowns, Owens took the pen from his sock, signed the ball and handed it to his financial advisor Greg Eastman. This was in 2002, before Twitter and most of the yelling shows on sports television, so we were spared most of the faux outrage. Though, plenty of people were still very angry. To anyone with a sense of humor, it was awesome.
6. Rifts with Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb
One of the greatest receivers ever played with five teams, and part of the reason he moved around a lot is he had a way of alienating his quarterbacks. Owens took shots at one his 49ers quarterbacks, Jeff Garcia. He even implied he thought Garcia might be gay in a Playboy interview, saying “Like my boy tells me: ‘If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.'”
His rifts with Donovan McNabb helped lead to his Eagles departure (McNabb wasn’t the only Eagle Owens battled with; T.O. also had a famous locker room fight with Hugh Douglas). The final straw in Philadelphia came when Owens said the team would be better off with Brett Favre than McNabb (in the same interview he also ripped the Eagles for not recognizing his 100th career touchdown). While true, it was a culmination of a lot of Owens controversy and the Eagles couldn’t take any more.
5. Sit-ups in the driveway
If you cover the NFL long enough, you come across some ridiculous moments. It’s possible that nothing has been more ridiculous in recent history than the scene of Terrell Owens, shirtless, lifting weights and doing sit-ups in his driveway as the media put microphones in his face. In 2005, Owens was suspended during camp by the Eagles after a shouting match with coach Andy Reid. The Philly media went to Owens’ home, where the madness started. It’s one of the most surreal scenes we’ll ever see. Nothing summed up the Owens circus better.
4. 20 catches in a game sets an NFL record
Famously, in Jerry Rice’s final home game with the 49ers, Owens upstaged him by catching a then-NFL record 20 passes. While Owens’ record was broken when Brandon Marshall caught 21 mostly inconsequential passes in a loss, Owens’ 283-yard day against the Bears late in the 2000 season stands as one of the greatest performances by a receiver in NFL history. And it says something about Owens’ crazy career that it couldn’t break his top three.
3. “Owens! Owens! Owens!”
They called it “The Catch II.” Owens made one of the greatest catches in NFL playoff history, in one of the most exciting games in playoff history. Steve Young completed a 25-yard pass to Owens in the middle of a group of Green Bay Packers defenders with four seconds left to lift the 49ers to a 30-27 win over the two-time defending NFC champions. The play was punctuated by the radio play-by-play call by Joe Starkey, who just screamed “Owens! Owens! Owens!”
2. Celebrating on the Cowboys’ midfield star
This probably could have been No. 1, and that’s a pretty good barometer of how wild Owens’ Hall-of-Fame career was. For many fans, the first thing they think of isn’t 15,934 yards, 156 touchdowns or five All-Pro teams. It’s Owens scoring against Dallas in 2000, then running straight to the midfield star logo at Cowboys Stadium and holding his arms out wide. After that, Emmitt Smith slammed the ball down on the star after his own touchdown, and when Owens scored yet again and started for midfield, that’s when the fireworks started. Cowboys safety George Teague ran after him and blind-sided Owens when he got to the star. That touched off a fight. That day, in many ways, epitomized Owens’ career. On a day in which Owens scored two touchdowns in a win, everyone was focused on the sideshow.
1. Playing with a broken leg in the Super Bowl
Whatever can be said about Owens, nobody should question his toughness or commitment to being great. Owens was supposed to miss the rest of the 2004 season after breaking his leg and tearing a ligament in his ankle late in the year. But when the Eagles made the Super Bowl, Owens made a surprising return and put on one of the most memorable performances in Super Bowl history.
Owens had broken his leg and damaged his ankle just seven weeks before the Super Bowl. His doctors wouldn’t clear him to play. But he played nearly the entire game and had nine catches for 122 yards. The Eagles came up short, but Owens is what we all remember from that game.
All of the controversial things above — the sit-ups, the battles with his quarterbacks, being shipped off multiple teams, the attention-drawing celebrations — are all part of Owens’ legacy. So is taking a painkilling shot and playing against doctor’s orders in the Super Bowl, then putting up 122 yards on a leg he broke seven weeks before.
“Before we came down here, I knew I was going to play all along,” Owens said after the game, according to ESPN. “The media made it a situation to where they thought I was grandstanding. But like I told a lot of people. If [that was] Brett Favre, they would have called him a warrior. For me, they said I was selfish. If I’m selfish, I’m selfish because I want to help my team win.”
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