(Photos courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
The debates on this year's Hall-of-Fame candidates were relatively benign. The longest involved former GM Bill Polian (it took 50 minutes), and the shortest was reserved for the dead-bolt cinch, linebacker Junior Seau (just over seven). Talks not only were informative; they were relatively quick and restrained.
But that changes next year -- and not because of the class. Because of one of its candidates.
Terrell Owens, come on down.
I've heard people say T.O. makes it as a first-ballot choice, and they cite his numbers as proof. He's second in receiving yards, third in receiving touchdowns and sixth in career receptions. He's the only player to score against all 32 teams, was a seven-time All-Pro, had nine 1,000-yard seasons and once caught a then-NFL record 20 passes in one game. No question, that's Hall-of-Fame material, and it should be promoted by his supporters. But look a little closer, and you discover they're missing the most compelling number of his career.
That's the number of teams that wanted him at the apex of his career. San Francisco got rid of him for next to nothing. The Eagles let him go to Dallas. Dallas let him go to Buffalo. And Buffalo and Cincinnati each let him walk after a season.
So what? So ask yourself this: Do you really want to induct a wide receiver who piled up huge numbers but didn't win a championship, was suspended twice by his own teams, was called "divisive" by one his own coaches and was so toxic that then-Philadelphia coach Andy Reid didn't think twice about letting him walk to Dallas -- a team within his division?
"I don't worry about anyone else," Reid once said. "I only worry about us."
In other words: Addition by subtraction.
Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Parcells was so underwhelmed by Owens that, when Owens was introduced as the Dallas Cowboys' newest addition, Parcells didn't bother to show up at the news conference. His absence spoke volumes, with Parcells making it clear what he thought about the move. He didn't like it, and he wasn't behind it. In fact, he was so opposed to it that he never called Owens by his name during his tenure in Dallas ... preferring "the player" instead.
Owens almost certainly will be a finalist in 2016, joining Marvin Harrison, who has been there the past two years and, apparently, wasn't happy that Tim Brown was chosen over him nine days ago. Brown had been waiting six years, had numbers comparable to Harrison and was an all-conference choice as a punt returner and kick returner.
Harrison was not. But Harrison is an early favorite for 2016 ... even though Owens and, perhaps, Isaac Bruce or Torrey Holt join him as finalists. Both were eligible this year, but both failed to make the cut after reaching the semifinal list of 26.
Bottom line: There will be plenty of competition for Harrison, with Owens the stiffest. People who believe in him believe his numbers are compelling. But the Hall of Fame is about more than numbers; otherwise, it would hire Deloitte to do more than verify the votes. It would have it cast them, too, picking inductees according to their figures -- with those with the highest going in first.
If that were the case, Kevin Greene would have been in long ago. He's third on the league's career sack list, behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White. They're in Canton. Greene is not ... even though he has 60 more sacks than Charles Haley, who was inducted this year.
Nope, the Hall includes the "eye test," too, and the impact players on their teams and on their opponents. Haley was deserving. Greene is, too. And Owens is deserving of discussion ... which, guaranteed, will be long and impassioned.
Owens is a polarizing candidate, with no grey areas. You either love him or loathe him, and now we find out where the Pro Football Hall of Fame stands. Fasten your seat belts, people. It's going to be a bumpy ride.