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Hip Hop artist Jay Z rapped, “I’m not a business-man, I’m a business, man!” – implying that his name, his persona and his image don’t simply contribute to the overall prosperity of the product, rather that his name and his image are “the product.”
In similar respects, Dallas Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens might have you believe that he simply isn’t a participant in the NFL, but rather he is its meal ticket.
With his actions and character routinely condemned throughout the media, Owens continues defend himself as misunderstood. Maybe he is. Maybe his isn’t. But what do his upcoming opponents on the Buccaneers think about the person, the athlete and the entertainer – T.O.?
“That’s my boy. Yeah, that’s my man,” said Bucs’ defensive end Simeon Rice, who entered the league the same year as Owens (1996).
As for the way Owens carries himself, Rice said, “It’s unconventional. But it’s him. Man, be yourself. And if that’s being yourself, I’ll roll with you. In the end, he’s a man about it, so I respect that.”
One might presume Rice, who has been labeled eccentric or unrestrained at times, has a lot in common with T.O., but he denies that notion.
“We’re totally different,” said Rice, who acknowledged he’s hung out a few times with Owens. “He’s an introvert. You have to know him. Most people wouldn’t know that. He’s extremely quiet. I have nothing bad to say about T.O.”
It’s not hard to see why Owens has become a larger-than-life character in the NFL. Whether he is celebrating a touchdown on the Dallas star with the 49ers, saying God allowed him to make a heroic effort in coming back from a broken foot to play in Super Bowl XXXIX or showing up to Cowboys’ training camp in a yellow “Team Discovery” bicycling jersey, there is rarely a case when he is not the center of attention.
Arrogant? Sure. Delusional? Maybe. But to say Owens is not engrossing would be way off base.
Owens’ debut as a Dallas Cowboy brought Fox a 14.3 national household rating, the highest ever for a Week One game. His 2004 biography, “Catch This,” was on the New York Times’ best seller list. During the ‘04 offseason, Owens’ 81 Eagles jersey was the NFL’s number one seller.
Athletes aren’t strangers when it comes to promoting themselves. In his celebrated 1990 Canon Camera ad campaign, pro tennis star Andre Agassi said, “Image is everything!” Certainly Owens has cultivated his into a multi-million dollar empire. And whether you see him more as a sideshow or a headliner, there’s no doubt people are tuning into his act.
“Just from what I’ve seen on TV, he’s a hell of a player,” said Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis. “I’ve watched him shred defenses. Off the field, he is what he is. He’s T.O.”
And T.O. will let you know where to find him too. He wears a rubber bracelet with his name and personal Web site, TerrellOwens.com on it. On the site he pushes an array of products, from T.O. hats to T.O.’s book to T.O. jerseys, even T.O. plastic cups and popcorn. Everything but a T.O. Sharpie it seems.
The indelible memory of Owens pulling a Sharpie pen out of his sock to sign his touchdown ball during an October 2002 Monday Night Football game in Seattle is one, on a long list, of his antics.
Receiver, rather than any other position perhaps, lends itself more to the spotlight and the stage. So from one receiver to another, what’s the take on those elaborate celebrations?
“I like it – it’s showtime,” said Bucs wideout Michael Clayton. “I’m a fan of it. I’m not that type of person, but I think it’s funny, entertaining. It serves its purpose. That’s what they’re trying to do, keep their fans happy.”
But just like Owens says there are two sides to him, T.O. the football player and Terrell the person, there are two sides to Clayton’s opinion.
“He’s a guy with a lot of antics and a lot of B.S.,” Clayton said. “As a person, I don’t know him and I don’t really care too much of him. As an athlete on the field, he’s a hell of an athlete and I give him that.”
You need only to look at blogs that originate in Philadelphia, to understand the kind of dislike fans have for Owens.
But Owens once said, “As you get to know me, you kind of figure me out, that I’m not as probably as bad of a guy that I’ve been reported to be. I’m not that jerk.”
Well, maybe not, but you’d be hard pressed to find a player, or any individual for that matter, who is in agreement with everything that Owens has ever said or done, whether it’s calling 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia gay or saying the Eagles would be better off with Packers QB Brett Favre instead of Donovan McNabb.
But the one constant you will hear from almost every player on the Bucs and in the league, is that they share a great respect for his game
“A lot of people may be down on him because he may talk too much or things of that nature, but the bottom line is, when he gets on the field, he’s a competitor,” said Bucs safety Jermaine Phillips. “Look at his numbers. Somebody who doesn’t love the game or love to compete just doesn’t do that. Yeah, he talks a lot, but there are a lot of guys in the league that talk a lot.”
And the numbers speak volumes. Owens is the only receiver besides Jerry Rice to have five or more seasons with 13 or more receiving TDs in a regular season. He had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (2000-’04) and holds the NFL record for receptions in a single game with 20.
Regardless of his perception, he is a nightmare for opposing defensive backs.
“Outside of all the antics, he’s still one of the premier receivers in the league,” Tampa Bay cornerback Juran Bolden said. “Size, speed and good hands. I look forward to Thanksgiving because any time you’re going to play against one of the better receivers in the league you get stoked.”
One thing is for sure, no defender wants to be made a turkey on national television and other than the Super Bowl, there’s no bigger spotlight for an NFL player than a Thursday afternoon in November.
Will the Bucs’ defense knock the stuffing out of T.O. or will he ham it up in front of a national audience?
“My thing is to not let him score so he can’t do his thing,” Bolden said. “But I like celebrations, too, and if I get an interception and take it back, you might as well throw five flags at me because I’m going to be for there the whole time.”
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