Giving stiff-arm to Hall of Fame is ultimate — and unfortunate — Terrell Owens move
It’s the most T.O. thing that Terrell Owens has ever done.
Owens will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of a robust Class of 2018 – take a bow, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Brian Dawkins, Robert Brazile, Jerry Kramer and Bobby Beathard – but the man whose drama routinely eclipsed his greatness as a player essentially hung up on the Hall’s call and opted not to show up for the celebration in Canton, Ohio.
T.O., the first living Hall of Famer to skip the enshrinement ceremony. Go figure.
Instead, Owens is pegged to deliver his induction speech at his alma mater, Tennessee-Chattanooga, at 3:17 pm. ET – he's the Hall's 317th member.
“I told him, ‘I hope that you don’t look back in 5, 10, 20 years, and regret it,’ “ Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe told USA TODAY Sports, recalling a recent conversation with Owens. “I just wanted him to understand the moment.
"I said, ‘Man, you’re not going to be on the stage.’ He said, ‘I’m going to be on a stage. Just not that stage!’ "
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When he announced the decision to snub the Hall, Owens mentioned that he didn’t want to spend one of the best days of his life in Canton. In subsequent weeks, he also suggested that he was motivated to make a statement protesting the fact that he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Owens was voted in on his third time as a finalist, and he’s hardly the first to wait. Sharpe made it as a third-time finalist. Among others who had to wait multiple years: Cris Carter, Michael Strahan, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Lynn Swann and Harry Carson.
“It took me five or six years to get in,” Charles Haley, who won five Super Bowl rings with the 49ers and Cowboys, told USA TODAY Sports this week. “But I’m in now. And will always be in. I don’t care if it took me 20 years to get in.”
Like Sharpe and others, Haley talked to Owens and tried to convince him to show up in Canton. Steve Young, Owens’ former quarterback, virtually begged the receiver to show up.
None of that mattered. What a shame.
As a Hall of Famer, Owens is now part of a team from which he can never be cut. Yet it’s striking that for a man who burned a few bridges during his career – notably with quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jeff Garcia – his Hall of Fame entrance has similar questions.
“He’s rejecting the relationships,” Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott told USA TODAY Sports. “That Ray Nitschke Luncheon? That is an incredible moment. Like wow.”
The Nitschke Luncheon, named in honor of the late Green Bay Packers linebacker, is the ultra-private event held on the Friday before the induction ceremony, where past honorees initiate the new class as they express what it means to be a Hall of Famer.
As a Hall of Fame selector for the past 20 years, I had the privilege of being allowed in that room a few times and always loved it when the late Deacon Jones would warn the new members: “You’re not in yet. We can send you back!”
Troy Aikman, I remember, called the luncheon the highlight of his Hall of Fame induction weekend. The year that Michael Irvin went in, he told me that he wasn’t crazy about the luncheon rule that prohibits the new class members from speaking at the luncheon, but he swore that he’d be one of the first ones to grab the mic the next year.
“I accept that he decided not to come, but one of the big things is to build a bond with other Hall of Famers,” Sharpe said. “Maybe he’ll come in the future. But if he won’t show up for his own induction, what’s the likelihood that he’ll come in some other year?”
While the reaction denouncing Owens’ action has been strong (some voters even suggested they would not have voted him in, which is wrong in the sense that the Hall’s bylaws state that the criteria is based on what occurred on the field), several Hall of Famers stated that they refuse to harbor ill will towards Owens.
“It’s not for me to judge,” said Lott, who also talked to Owens about his decision. “The feelings that he has about it will live with him forever. But I have friends that went through some of the same challenges – when they got in, how they got in.
“I just hope that his family and everybody associated with him get the same feeling that my family and friends got. All of those feelings didn’t come from me. They came from Jim Brown, bumping into my mom and dad. They came with my brothers and sisters meeting so many people when they came to Canton for my induction. That’s why it’s so special.”
Haley said that he’s disappointed for Owens, and that his Hall moment has come with another dose of the controversy that dogged him throughout his career.
“I’m going love him, regardless,” Haley said. “He’s part of the family. Yeah, you may get your feelings because you didn’t go in on the first ballot. But getting into the Hall allows you to put so much stuff behind you."
Owens, though, seemingly wants to go into the Hall with the type of controversial edge that clouded his impact as a player. Sadly, that seems fitting enough.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.