There is not much more that can be said about Super Bowl LI. For every epic comeback, there is an equally epic meltdown on the other side. Prior to the game itself, the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was a big source of debate. Lots of controversy has surrounded Terrell Owens being “snubbed” again, but there is a Terrell being enshrined this year, and it is the right one.
While there is certainly a case to be made that Owens is more worthy than Terrell Davis, if you look beyond raw numbers, the reverse of that argument is not the least bit crazy and here is why.
First, this was a crowded year for the Hall of Fame. With the maximum of five “modern era players” going in this year, three were stone cold lead pipe locks. Pass rusher Jason Taylor, quarterback Kurt Warner and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
That leaves two spots. As much as we all like to make fun of kickers, the most important thing in the NFL is scoring points, and Morten Andersen has done that more than anybody else. Thus, he is worthy of a spot after having to wait a few years. It is reasonable to speculate that many voters came down to Davis and Owens for the final spot.
Before making the majority of my argument, it was necessary to point out the strength of the class as a whole. You would be hard-pressed to take one of the other four inductees out to make room for both Owens and Davis in the same class.
It is virtually impossible to overstate the impact of Terrell Davis on the Broncos organization. Prior to his arrival in the mid-90s, the Broncos were a slightly better version of what the Colts are now. They had a truly great quarterback who was not surrounded by much additional talent.
John Elway led Denver to three Super Bowl appearances in the 80s. The closest the Broncos got to winning one of those games was a 19 point defeat against the Giants. As Elway entered the twilight of his career, a Super Bowl ring looked like a pipe dream.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan plucked Davis from obscurity and made him the starting running back as a rookie in 1995. By 1997, Davis had posted consecutive seasons of well over 1000 yards rushing to start his career. However, the Broncos and their aging quarterback had not found postseason success.
Davis had another stellar year as Denver won the AFC West. In four playoff games that year, Davis rushed for over 100 yards in each and tallied eight touchdowns. The Broncos upset the Packers to win Super Bowl XXXII. Davis scored three touchdowns and was named Super Bowl MVP.
In 1998, Davis was again the centerpiece of the Broncos offense. He rushed for over 2000 yards. There have been only seven such seasons in NFL history. Davis was named league MVP as the Broncos coasted to a second straight Super Bowl victory. He rushed for a total 1049 yards in the 97 and 98 postseasons combined.
Starting in 1999, Davis was haunted by knee trouble that started when he attempted to make a tackle on an interception return against the Jets. He would appear in just 17 more games after 1998. He retired during the 2002 preseason.
His lack of longevity certainly hurt his Hall of Fame chances, he had to wait a decade. However, when he was at his best Davis was as good as the game has ever seen. The injuries prevented him from being near the top of numerous rushing record lists. Even so, fellow Hall of Famer and teammate Shannon Sharpe summed it up best in Davis’ A Football Life documentary on the NFL Network. He was quoted as saying “Without T.D. we don’t win Super Bowls”
Similarly, think about how differently John Elway’s career would be viewed if not for the two Super Bowl wins Davis spearheaded in the last two years of Elway’s career.
As for Terrell Owens, he ranks second all-time in receiving yards and third in touchdowns. On that alone, he is certainly Hall of Fame worthy. Unfortunately for Owens, players do not exist in a vacuum nor should they.
As productive as he was, Owens never made a team he was on better. The 49ers were perennial contenders before Owens arrived. Philadelphia was already on a string of runs to the NFC championship game.
In 2004, the Eagles finally reached the Super Bowl, but Owens was injured for the playoffs and did not return until the Super Bowl, which Philadelphia lost. He turned in an admirable performance despite not having fully recovered from a broken ankle.
The only thing having Owens on your team guaranteed was not winning many big games and him throwing whoever his quarterback was under the bus for not getting him the ball enough, despite those Hall of Fame numbers. This always led to more ridiculousness like him being sent home then holding press conferences and doing sit-ups in his driveway.
Owens played for five franchises in his career. With his numbers, it is very telling that T.O. bounced around so much. In his first three stops, Owens eventually became a cancer to the team he was on. Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb have said as much, Tony Romo has always been more tight-lipped about the controversial wideout.
In his final two years in Buffalo and Cincinnati, Owens was simply irrelevant. Your reputation follows you everywhere. In the case of Owens, that includes the Hall of Fame ballot. He has no one to blame but himself. He will forever be more known for his dancing and politicking than his on field work. Any other player with those numbers have already taken their rightful place in Canton.
The good news for T.O. is that he will absolutely be inducted in the not too distant future. For now, there is no issue with a guy whose teams won Super Bowls because of him going in before a guy whose teams often imploded around him.