By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Lawrence Taylor abused drugs during his career. He also sent escorts to opponents' hotels the night before games. And, individual actions aside, he was kind of a bad dude. Lawrence Taylor is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
O.J. Simpson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. He remains there today, despite his well-known history. In fact, the Hall of Fame has a fawning page on its website that is live to this very day. It's a page where you can read his bio, see his photos, and stand in awe at the greatness that is "The Juice." You can even buy some memorabilia!
Yet ... Terrell Owens is too much of a jerk to be in the Hall of Fame?
What planet are we on here?
Let's get this out of the way first. T.O. was absolutely a diva during his playing days. Press conferences in his driveway, hamming it up for the camera at all times, petulant, annoying. The worst of the worst. He's the last person in the world who would inspire anyone to take up his cause, simply because throughout his career in the NFL he always came across as someone who believes he's bigger than the game and, frankly, bigger than anyone else.
Yet somehow, that person has managed to become a sympathetic figure, and that's entirely due to the mightily sanctimonious Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.
Those voters did not deem T.O. worthy of getting into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. As a reminder, here's where Owens ranks all time in NFL history:
Receiving yards: Second
Receiving touchdowns: Third
To reiterate, those are his rankings all time in NFL history. The man with the second-most receiving yards is not a Hall of Famer, yet Michael Irvin is? Keeping in mind that Irvin had drug problems during his 12-year career and in retirement, let's compare:
Michael Irvin: 750 rec., 11,904 yards, 65 touchdowns
Terrell Owens: 1,078 rec., 15,934 yards, 153 touchdowns
Hey, while we're at it, let's compare Marvin Harrison, who was just voted into the HOF and also has a very suspicious gun history on his record, with Owens:
Marvin Harrison: 1,102 rec., 14,580 yards, 128 touchdowns
Terrell Owens: 1,078 rec., 15,934 yards, 153 touchdowns
Owens also has five postseason touchdowns in 12 games, compared to Harrison's two touchdowns in 16 playoff games.
One of those players is worthy of making the Hall of Fame, but the other isn't.
Again, what world is this?
It is a world where football Hall voters are now just as bad as baseball voters with the "first ballot" nonsense, and it's one where they believe that a player being "disruptive" is now something that should keep someone from being voted into the Hall of Fame.
New York Daily News writer Gary Myers joined the Dan Patrick Show with Ross Tucker guest-hosting, and the two shared this exchange:
Myers: The bottom line on T.O. is he was so disruptive. Now with [Lawrence Taylor], you don't count the off-the-field stuff. That's a mandate from the Hall of Fame -- it's only what you've done on the field. The argument that was made in the room, and I agreed with this, is what T.O. did in the locker room is part of, umm ...
Tucker: That counts? Why don't you just evaluate what's inside the white lines?
Myers: Because I think that the locker room is an extension of that.
Tucker: But how do you really know what happened in the locker room?
Myers: He tore teams apart!
Tucker: But how do you really know that, Gary?
Myers: He's a Hall of Fame player that five teams couldn't wait to get rid of. So what does that tell you about how disruptive he was? I do think he will get into the Hall of Fame. I don't think there's any question about it. I don't know, I think what happened in the locker room and getting thrown off of five teams and being considered a cancer, certainly prevented him from being a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Tucker: Did the rest of the room agree?
Myers: Well, obviously, because he didn't make it past the final 10.
Just the visual of seeing Myers say "I do think he will get into the Hall of Fame" is cringe-inducing. You think one of the singular greatest talents to ever play wide receiver might eventually get into the museum that honors the best to ever play the game? Wow, how magnanimous of you. But he's not a first ballot Hall of Famer, not this guy, no way. (Lawrence Taylor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, by the way.)
Myers may have been flat-out wrong to say Owens was "thrown off" five teams, but he surely wasn't the only one to throw out the "locker room cancer" idea. Bill Polian, a Hall of Famer himself, commented on the situation. He thought his own former player, Harrison, was more worthy of enshrinement than Owens.
"The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who make their teams better, not for those who disrupt them and make them worse," Polian said.
Let's take a look at that charge against Owens, who played for the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills and Bengals.
San Francisco, 1993-95 (pre-T.O.): 34-11 (.756 win %), 4-2 postseason
San Francisco, 1996-2003 (with T.O.): 76-52 (.593 win %), 4-4 postseason
San Francisco, 2004-06 (post-T.O.): 13-35 (.271 win %), zero postseason appearances
Philadelphia, 2002-03 (pre-T.O.): 24-8 (.750 win %), 2-2 postseason
Philadelphia, 2004-05 (with T.O.): 19-13* (.594 win %), 2-1 postseason
Philadelphia, 2006-07 (post-T.O.): 16-16 (.500 win %), 1-1 postseason
*Owens played just seven games in 2005, with the Eagles going 4-3 with him and 2-7 without him. In regular-season games in which T.O. played, the Eagles went 17-4, a winning percentage of .810.
Dallas, 2003-05 (pre-T.O.): 25-23 (.521 win %), 0-1 postseason
Dallas, 2006-08 (with T.O.): 31-17 (.646 win %), 0-2 postseason
Dallas, 2009-11 (post-T.O.): 25-23 (.521 win%), 1-1 postseason
Buffalo, 2008 (pre-T.O.): 7-9 (.438 win %)
Buffalo, 2009 (with T.O.): 6-10 (.375 win %)
Buffalo, 2010 (post-T.O.): 4-12 (.250 win %)
Cincinnati, 2009 (pre-T.O.): 10-6 (.625 win %)
Cincinnati, 2010 (with T.O.): 4-12 (.250 win %)
Cincinnati, 2011 (post-T.O.): 9-7 (.563 win %)
The Bengals are the one team where the idea that Owens made teams worse could hold weight, but blaming the then-37-year-old receiver for all of those woes on that mess of a Bengals team would be a little over the top. But the Bills stunk with and without Owens, the Cowboys got better with Owens and worse after he left, the Eagles nearly won a Super Bowl on the back of Owens and his broken ankle, and most of those 49ers teams never had a quarterback. The Niners' getting demonstrably worse after Owens left is another knock against this "argument."
Was T.O. a pain in the neck to deal with? Obviously. But the idea that he tore teams apart really doesn't hold much weight.
But here's where the hypocrisy really rises to a new level. Tony Dungy was selected for the Hall of Fame.
He ranks 22nd all time in wins among head coaches. Bill Cowher has more.
He ranks 18th in postseason wins. John Harbaugh has more.
Dungy owns a .474 winning percentage in the playoffs. That's a losing record, in case you're not following. And he was only a head coach for 13 years, instead choosing to settle into a media role where he is free to espouse his occasionally bigoted and prejudicial views.
But here, Peter King argued that Dungy's impact off the field is why he deserves to be in Canton.
"In my opinion, Dungy has to be credited with doing the most for African-American coaches of anyone who's ever roamed an NFL sideline," King wrote. "And you can't underestimate the impact of Dungy being the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. It's a layered case that Dungy makes, and I think he's deserving."
That's a clear-cut case of a Hall of Fame voter taking into consideration what a figure did outside of the white lines. It would be fair, too, if not for the fact that just a moment ago, we saw a different voter explain that the Hall of Fame has a "mandate" against such considerations.
But worse, just last year King said this (tweets edited only for grammar/abbreviations) about Darren Sharper, a man who has been accused of raping multiple women in different states and has since pleaded guilty to three of the charges:
"The 46 Hall of Fame voters are asked to consider only on-field factors for ex-players. That is what I do. He may be shy of qualifications, but he is certainly a candidate. 2000s all-decade player. Sixth all-time with 63 INTs (Reed: 64). He's a candidate. We would be shirking our duties if we did not consider him. What has happened since should not be factored in. The bylaws of the Pro Football Hall of Fame forbid the 46 voters from considering players' off-field lives. If I said, 'I will not consider Sharper for induction because he has been accused of multiple rapes,' I would resign from the committee."
King followed up to the backlash he received from those tweets:
"Re all Sharper questions: My stance is a simple one. I believe all players should be considered for HoF based on football careers only."
So, Hall of Fame voters are forced overlook what a serial rapist did off the field, but Dungy's impact on society is what gets him in. And Terrell Owens' being a jerk keeps him out.
UPDATE: Peter King wrote on Feb. 15 that Hines Ward deserves serious Hall of Fame consideration in 2017 because he was a great blocking receiver. King and Ward are colleagues at NBC.
Ultimately, this is the inherent flaw in asking humans to feign objectivity in a vote that by necessity requires subjective evaluations. It's a matter that is complicated by haughty guardians who feel a little big in their britches when they let these players know that they're not first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Hall of Fame debates are often the poorest use of time, brainpower and oxygen, and we're all guilty of contributing to the waste from time to time (if you've made it this far, then you know my culpability by now). It's even more preposterous when everyone knows that the player will eventually get in, just not on the first ballot.
But perhaps never before has the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process looked every bit as obnoxious as the process for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and so we're left with this nonsensical mess of men trying to treat their decision-making as if it's a matter of fact.
Maybe we ought to just overhaul the entire Hall of Fame selection processes altogether. Who would ever vote against that?
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