Dougherty: Hall call for Owens? There's a catch

Pete Dougherty
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If you think Terrell Owens’ stats make him a slam-dunk pick for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you’re wrong.

Former NFL player Terrell Owens watches a preseason NBA game between the Orlando Magic and the Memphis Grizzlies from a courtside seat Oct. 23, 2015, in Orlando.

The former star wide receiver was the most polarizing candidate in last weekend’s Hall vote, and the most controversial snub. In his second year of eligibility, he again didn’t get in, and judging by the response on Twitter, there’s plenty of bewilderment and outrage out there.

I’m one of the 48 voters who sat through the nearly nine-hour selection meeting in Houston on Saturday, and for the second straight year was fascinated by the spirited discussion on Owens.

First, here’s how the Hall vote works: The meeting starts with 15 modern-day candidates, and after all 15 cases are argued, voters by secret ballot reduce the list to 10 and then to five. The final five then get an up or down vote, again by secret ballot, with 80 percent yes the threshold to get in.

I voted for Owens to make the final 10. He missed the cut. I’d have voted for him for the final five and to be enshrined in the Hall.

But this was hardly an easy call. I came into the meeting inclined to vote for him, but the impassioned debate for the second straight year again gave me pause.

The issue isn’t whether he was a gifted player. It’s whether he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The bare facts are that Owens was a five-time first-team All-Pro and ranks No. 2 on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards and No. 3 for touchdown catches. Impressive indeed.

However, it’s also true that three teams got rid of him in his prime years even though he was putting up those numbers.

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A point of clarification, the Hall’s bylaws state that voters should consider only what a player does on the field for their candidacy. So arrests, convictions, drug issues, etc., are not a factor.

But the bylaws allow for taking into account how a player’s behavior on the sidelines and in the locker room affects his team’s performance, for better or worse.

And Owens’ history isn’t pretty. He had a gift for alienating quarterbacks and dividing locker rooms with his public complaints. He was uncommonly difficult to work with.

Owens played his first eight years in the NFL for the 49ers, but at the height of his career the sides divorced, and they traded him to Philadelphia in 2004.

In 2005, Owens’ second season with the Eagles, coach Andy Reid kicked him off the team after seven games for conduct detrimental. He’d publicly criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb and was pushing publicly for a new contract even though he was only 1½ years into the seven-year deal he’d signed when he joined the team. Owens was on pace to catch 107 passes for 1,744 yards, yet Reid dumped him.

And in March 2009, the Cowboys released him despite his averages of 78 catches for 1,196 yards in his three seasons there.

Hall voters pledge not to discuss details of who said what during the selection meeting — it’s a necessary rule to foster candor. But suffice it to say, some of the opinions relayed from credible sources who worked with Owens were damning. One Hall of Famer, former Bills, Panthers and Colts GM Bill Polian, even went on the public record in 2016 with his objection.

“The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who make their teams better,” Polian said, “not for those who disrupt them and make them worse.”

These things can’t simply be dismissed.

So that’s what you’re left to weigh. The stats against the rest.

Now, in the end there’s no middle ground for a voter. It’s either yes or no.

And I say yes.

Though it always ended badly, it wasn’t always bad. In his 231 regular-season and playoff games, his teams’ winning percentage was .556, and his teams went to the playoffs eight times.

Most importantly, he was a player defenses had to game plan around, and he was that for a long time. His talent was immense. I know whenever the Packers played an Owens team once he’d become a true No. 1 receiver in 1999, he was the guy they wanted to keep from beating them.

To me, that’s a Hall of Famer, even if Owens inevitably sabotaged himself and his team, and even if it came quicker the older he grew. He was a difference maker.

As for the idea that some members of the committee are punishing his bad behavior by making him wait to get in, I’m not buying. From what I can tell based on the debate, plenty of them simply think teams were too eager to get rid of Owens for him to be a Hall of Famer no matter what his stats say.

That doesn’t mean some won’t change their minds. I have in my short time on the committee. Two years ago, at my first vote, I didn’t think Kurt Warner had enough great seasons to be a Hall of Famer. But the closer I looked over time, the more I came to think he’d done enough. So I gladly voted for him all the way through Saturday.

I don’t know if or when Owens will make it. I believe he should. But anyone who thinks this is a no-brainer isn’t thinking.

— and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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