Terrell Owens was apparently supposed to be the “missing link” between the Philadelphia Eagles and a Super Bowl title.
The Eagles’ backside still bore the treadmarks branded by a juggernautic eighteen-wheeler in the form of the Carolina Panthers.
It was those Panthers that put the pedal to the metal, horn blaring, and ran Donovan McNabb and company over on a cold January night in 2004, costing Philly their third straight NFC Championship game, the second in a row at home.
Nothing went right in that game for Philly, particularly for its starting wide receivers. Todd Pinkston “wasn’t focused”, and kept losing passes “in the lights” if you were to ask the frog-legged speedster.
Truth is, the frail wideout was intimidated at the sound of footsteps, i.e. those of Carolina’s defenders, and Pinkston’s reputation as a heartless stiff took root on that night.
Overpromoted slot-man James Thrash didn’t fare much better. He had one more catch than Pinkston, which is less impressive if you knew that Pinkston went catchless all game. Other than that nine-yard haul that Thrash had, his only other contribution was getting nailed on what should have been a sure catch. The ball in his grasp spurted up in the air, and was easily picked by Ricky Manning Jr.; his third such snag of the night.
Ricky Manning Jr.: three catches (interceptions) for fifteen yards. James Thrash and Todd Pinkston combined: one catch for nine yards.
Something had to be done.
And so Owens left the barren gold mines of San Francisco to dig for fortunes in the city of liberty, by way of a convoluted trade facilitated by Owens’ agent not filing his free agency paperwork.
The agent was fired and, in dark foreshadowing not recognizable to the naked eye, Drew Rosenhaus was hired to represent the star wideout.
Most Eagles fans look back on that 2004 season the way they look at an up-and-down relationship: a lot of pleasure and treasure, but an acrimonious conclusion. Yeah, the Birds didn’t win Super Bowl XXXIX, but getting there was novel in and of itself.
The connection between McNabb and Owens represents the aforementioned pleasure. Not since Jaworski-to-Carmichael had there been such a surefire connection; a tandem that terrorized defenses with strong throws, nimble receptions, and a bloated stat line that made defensive coordinators hang their heads in disgust
There’s a reason Bob Slowik lasted only one year in Green Bay as their D-cord. December 5, 2004 is that Exhibit A.
Owens’ spectacular performance in 2004 was letterboxed in dream sequence clouding. There simply hadn’t been a wide receiver of his caliber in Philadelphia since Harold Carmichael lurched through defenses a quarter century earlier. Fans swept up No. 81 jerseys in their loving arms, as if they were cloaked tossed by a benevolent football God.
But there’s an adage that the Lord giveth, and he taketh away.
Alright, maybe it wasn’t a benevolent God who allowed Owens to spill public criticism of McNabb’s Super Bowl performance, calling the signal-caller out for his on-field regurgitation that night in Jacksonville. Perhaps that God didn’t tell Owens to wear a Michael Irvin jersey to a press conference.
To many a fan in midnight green, we tried to sweep these annoyances under the rug with vigorous eye rolls. Just let it go, we thought. His attitude will change when the Eagles come roaring back through 2005, we thought. This isn’t San Francisco, we’re a team on the rise, we said.
The denials could no longer blind us when Owens whined about the team not acknowledging his one-hundredth receiving touchdown, and claimed that the Eagles would have been in better shape had Brett Favre been taking the snaps over a wounded McNabb.
He fought physically, against former Eagle Hugh Douglas, and verbally with Rosenhaus as his mouthpiece. He staged a self-indulgent workout in his driveway for the media frenzy to feed upon, and feast they did.
After a season and a half of brilliance and turmoil, with nary an instance of middle ground, Andy Reid suspended Owens, and deactivated him for the remainder of the 2005 season. Four months later, “TO” was released, and promptly signed with the Dallas Cowboys, whose tendency to take in the league’s bad boys is etched in their image.
Success continued to elude the pompous, me-first superstar. Three years in Dallas, nary a playoff win in sight. Eventually, the Cowboys tired of Owens, and they cut him loose.
2009 in Buffalo yielded nothing, as did 2010 in Cincinnati.
Terrell Owens, if you can believe it, has not won a playoff game in ten years (the two that Philadelphia won in the 2004 playoffs were with Owens inactive due to injury).
After missing all of 2011, and spending some time with the IFL’s Arlen Wranglers earlier this year, karma kicked Owens hard, when his multiple child-support situations came to light. The man once as revered as he was hated was now a pitiful deadbeat appearing on Dr. Phil, blathering on about his misfortune and irresponsibility.
The latest setback for the man who “loved him some him” was being cut by the Seattle Seahawks today during the first wave of summer releases. A poor performance against Kansas City, with critical drops, ended the 38-year-old’s brief tenure in Space City.
There aren’t too many folks wiping away tears for Owens, who is likely staring a forced retirement in its disanimate face. Neil Armstrong died this weekend; tears are best saved for a hero that never stepped on the helpful people around him.
There are even more dry eyes in Philadelphia, where Owens had his best chance at the championship glory he claimed to be worth. Sure, he fell short in Super Bowl XXXIX, but there were still years left for he, McNabb, and others to pick up the pieces and make the run toward that Lombardi Trophy.
But because Owens put himself before the team, with football being a team game, that opportunity was squandered, and a special, rarified bridge here was burned for good.
As a matter of fact, the attention that Owens’ many previous stunts and tantrums earned was hardly found in today’s press release over his termination. The Colts receiving Vontae Davis via trade took up the NFL Network crawl-ticker, not Owens’ latest setback.
It’s an ironic end for Owens, whose career can be defined as one attention-getting skyrocket after another. The irony is, heads barely turned for him today, not even to kick dirt on his decaying shell.
And yet, those Eagles that he spurned may one day win a Super Bowl. Maybe Dallas will win one. Or San Francisco, or Buffalo, or Cincinnati will be hoisting the spoils of victory.
They’ll have done it without Owens, who always perceived himself as that missing link to just such glory.
Instead of being a missing link, Owens has just become a link that nobody is missing.