Commentary

Selfishness, drops, playoff disappearing acts make T.O. overrated

The "O" in T.O. doesn't stand for just Owens. It also stands for "overrated," writes Sal Paolantonio.

Originally Published: April 8, 2008
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN.com

Terrell OwensGetty ImagesTerrell Owens has been productive, but he's caused his share of problems over the years.
Some recent "best of" lists have been putting Terrell Owens in the same sentence as Jerry Rice. What are these people thinking?

Rice, a member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, has won three Super Bowl titles and been named a Super Bowl MVP.

The one time in Owens' 12-year career his team reached a Super Bowl, it got there without him. That tells you everything you need to know about T.O.

Since entering the NFL in 1996 with San Francisco, Owens has piled up some remarkable numbers. His 129 career receiving touchdowns trail only Rice and Cris Carter. He's ninth all time in catches (882) and 10th in yards (13,070).

And, along the way, he has destroyed two football teams.

By 2003, the 49ers had enough of his act. After joining the Eagles in 2004, it took him only a year and a half to estrange himself from the team.

With T.O., it's not about winning, it's about T.O. And that's only occasionally conducive to winning. Whether he's questioning Jeff Garcia's sexuality, blasting Donovan McNabb's Super Bowl performance or doing sit-ups for TV cameras on his front lawn, Owens generally finds himself making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Early in his career, Owens was humble, soft-spoken and respectful to his teammates and coaches -- and deferential to Rice. But as he became more and more dangerous on the field, Owens became more and more unpredictable off it.

In 2000 and 2001, he posted consecutive 1,400-yard seasons, something only Rice and Marvin Harrison have achieved. He looked every bit like a budding Hall of Famer. But he changed. And most of what he accomplished on the field began to be overshadowed by his increasingly erratic behavior off it.

"He started out as 90 percent Terrell and 10 percent T.O.," a former coach said. "A few years later, he was 90 percent T.O. and 10 percent Terrell."

Owens began criticizing his coaches, ripping his teammates and shredding team chemistry, which effectively neutralized his on-field pyrotechnics.

That's why Owens is one of the most overrated wide receivers in NFL history.

No matter how many passes he catches, no matter how many touchdowns he scores, no matter how many Pro Bowls he's selected to, he always ends up hurting his team more than he helps it.

"He's like a wild bronco," former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said. "Every cowboy thinks he can control him, but there are some broncos that nobody can saddle."

And by the way, during his two years in Dallas, he has dropped 27 passes, according to Stats, LLC. That's more than anybody else in the league (Cleveland's Braylon Edwards is second with 20). And, sometimes, all you have to do is cover Owens to render him ineffective. Take Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard. When the Cowboys played the Eagles last season without Sheppard on Nov. 4 in Philly, Owens caught 10 balls for 174 yards with one touchdown. On Dec. 16 in Dallas, Sheppard shut down Owens, who caught only two passes for 37 yards.

Owens began his career playing alongside Rice, who didn't have to brag to convince people he was the greatest receiver of all time. The 49ers won playoff games with Rice and T.O. in 1996, 1997 and 1998, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 1997.

But without Rice, Owens has hardly won a thing. During the past seven seasons, Owens has been in uniform for just one postseason victory. His lifetime playoff record is 4-7 -- and of those four wins, three came in the wild-card round. And in four of his past six postseason games -- the biggest games of his career -- this alleged superstar had 49 or fewer receiving yards.

His total postseason record without Rice is 1-5. Since leaving San Francisco, Owens has not won a playoff game.

The 2004 Eagles were forced to play their first two postseason games without an injured Owens and won both easily. With Owens back, they lost 24-21 to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Owens had a big game (9 catches for 122 yards), but instead of showing disappointment about the loss, he celebrated his performance in his postgame news conference.

"Nobody in the world gave me a chance," he crowed after the game. "God is good. God is great."

Why so happy after a loss? Because 9-for-122 matters far more to T.O. than a 24-21 loss in the Super Bowl.

Maybe that's why during the past nine years, Owens' teams have won more postseason games without him than with him.

Since joining the Cowboys, Owens is 0-2 in the postseason, with just six catches for 75 yards in two playoff games. In his past four playoff games, he has only one touchdown catch, which came last season in a loss at home to the Giants. Owens, who will be 35 in December and is going into the last year of his contract with the Cowboys, makes for a big show in Big D -- until the big games come around.

"When it comes to this game, I'm the best in the field," Owens sang in a 2006 rap single.

If being the best means ignoring your coaches, insulting your teammates, failing to produce in the playoffs and dropping more passes than anybody else in the league, he's absolutely right.

This is adapted from the best-selling book "The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players, Teams, Coaches and Moments in NFL History" by Sal Paolantonio with Reuben Frank, which is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.

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