It has always been consistent that defending Terrell Owens away from the football field is just as difficult as it was to defend him when he was on it.
He makes that a tough job, whether doing sit-ups in his driveway, or tearfully stealing the spotlight from a teammate's injury, or fuming about the injustice of a contract he just signed. Putting up with T.O.'s unending nonsense wears out his potential supporters as relentlessly as he wore out the cornerbacks and safeties assigned to keep him from catching passes during 15 NFL seasons.
But, here goes.
Owens has every right to be angry that it took three years to gain entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was not selected in his first two years of eligibility for the simple reason that the voters didn't like him. Again, that's understandable. It's also not the primary reason the electors are there.
Terrell Owens is a Hall of Fame player, something the voters got around to admitting this year. His career accomplishments place him in the all-time top 10 for receptions (eighth), receiving yards (second) and receiving touchdowns (third). There just isn't any question that he belongs, but the Hall stuffily kept him out as long as possible because he was a pain in the ass. During the same time, Marvin Harrison was elected despite career numbers that weren't as good and despite some off-the-field issues that went beyond having an annoying personality.
I mean, really. Steve Largent went in on his first year of eligibility. Steve Largent. He was really good, but, prime of their careers, one game to win, who do you want as your wide receiver, Terrell Owens or Steve Largent? It's not even worth discussing.
So, yeah, T.O. had a beef with the Hall, and, admittedly, he didn't handle his feelings with a class and grace that would have been more becoming. Owens announced that he would not be attending the induction ceremonies next month and would instead deliver his acceptance speech at a gathering on his college campus at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
In typically bizarre Owens logic, he said he was making his stand to point out the Hall's "flawed system" and to show support for other passed-over players, particularly 82-year-old Jerry Kramer, who was finally elected this year after being on the finalist ballot 11 times. (Kramer, who was selected Best Player Not in the Hall of Fame by the NFL Network a decade ago, has been extremely bitter about his lengthy exclusion, but does plan to travel from Boise for the ceremony even though his University of Idaho alma mater is a good deal handier.)
T.O. is clearly being petulant about having to wait for the honor and his career petulance is part of the reason he had to wait in the first place. That's his business and expecting him to change now is pointless.
All of that is what it is, but my personal beef is with the Hall's reaction to Owens. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, if it is really as serious an institution as it seems to consider itself, should be above this fray.
At both the Friday night award dinner and the Saturday induction, things should proceed as if Owens were there. When it comes time to list the individual accomplishments of those being enshrined and give each their moment of acknowledgement, the presentation for Owens should be the same as the others. Why? Because the Hall of Fame is writing the game's history, and because it elected Terrell Owens. If an actor stiffs the Academy Awards for some personal or political reason, they still call out his or her name and hold up the Oscar.
Well, that ain't going to happen in Canton. When the whole list is read, Owens will be mentioned, but that's all he's getting.
"There's no reason to bring him up as an individual. He's not here," Hall of Fame director Joe Horrigan said.
Joe, he's there. He's there forever.
In ignoring as much as possible its own decision to enshrine Owens, the Hall is belittling itself, stooping to the same level of schoolyard name-calling. "Nyah, nyah, nyah, I'm not coming." "Well, nyah, nyah, nyah. We're not going to talk about you."
It's just dumb and it will end with both the player and the institution looking bad. Maybe Owens can't help himself, but the Hall should have taken a higher road. And that's about as much as I can defend T.O., which is still more than I can defend the Pro Football Hall of Fame on this one.