Enough with the crossing patterns

Updated: October 22, 2004, 10:31 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

A great whopping deal has been made this week about Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens facing each other Sunday.

The problem is, they're not going to face each other. They haven't faced each other in years. It's an argument that just won't end, because (A.) they're both offensive players, (B.) they won't look at each other, and (C.) they'll never figure out how to shut up about each other.

Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens, right, and Jeff Garcia, center, were never very close to begin with, so don't expect to see them together when the play together on Sunday.
Oh, Garcia has been on the clamp, having been urged, warned and cajoled by his fellow Cleveland Browns to keep it above board, clean, and free of distractive qualities. Owens, on the other hand, listens only to the voice (or voices) in his own head, which always seems to tell him to say what's on his mind.

That's how he cheerfully savaged Garcia's qualifications and reputation, even implying (with the "help" of his son) that Garcia was gay.

Plus, he has a new book out, just to remind anyone who hasn't been paying attention that he has issues with Garcia.

Which only makes us wish all the more that they played on opposite sides of the ball Sunday, just to settle things so that the rest of us can stop listening to it.

Fact is, they were brought together in the dying embers of the 49ers' era of relevance, served each other well for awhile, but because Owens is an addictive personality (drug of choice: ball), Garcia eventually faded in his eyes as just one more delivery boy who couldn't deliver. After all, Owens caught 20 balls from Garcia in Jerry Rice's sendoff game in San Francisco, so why couldn't he keep doing that?

Therein lies the ultimate issue that caused the two to become popular icons in the Firemen-vs.-Arsonists category -- Owens never had another game like that, where he handled the ball as though he were LaDainian Tomlinson, and with every game that he thought he didn't get the ball enough (which was every game, as it turns out), he became more and more frustrated, and the more frustrated he became, the more he told compatriots and relative strangers about it.

Not that he didn't have his points. Garcia has his flaws as a quarterback -- he's better on the run than in the pocket, doesn't have an overly inspiring arm, is capable of the occasional horrific decision, and that makes him your basic above-average NFL quarterback.

In addition, Garcia has his whiny moments, too. A quarterback who had to wait not only his turn but someone else's before getting to the NFL, he is strident about getting his due, and being undercut on a nearly daily basis by his best receiver insured that they would have to patch things up to be enemies.

But it all started that December afternoon in 2000, when they were perfect together. And now, they're back together again ... except of course that they aren't.

They will answer all the questions, and then they will take the field Sunday and ignore each other -- or even more dismaying, they will play Empty Gesture Roulette and shake hands before the game and pretend that they can stand the sight of each other.

Nobody will be fooled.

Garcia-to-Owens were simply never destined to be Montana-to-Rice, or Unitas-to-Berry, or Bradshaw-to-Swann, or Starr-to-Dowler, or Graham-to-Lavelli, or any of the other legendary matches in NFL history. That it's led to this, an underwhelming showdown between two guys who won't even have to deal with each other, tells you everything you need to know about entitlements, the power of words, a media hungry for any cheap trick placed before it, and the overarching might of the damage that one great moment can cause.

I mean, imagine what might have been if Owens had simply gone 8-for-131 and two scores that day against the Bears. Nobody would have been the wiser, most especially he and Garcia.

Knowing what we know now, we can safely say that America would have taken that instead of what we have now. Gladly.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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