On the www.steelersfever.com forum, 'Lyn' suggested an article be written about why we, as NFL fans, are so engrossed in the human tragedy known as T.O., in light of last week's suicide fiasco. Never one to shy from a challenge, I thought I would analyze this interesting question and try to figure out why we are drawn to the 'Human Soap Opera' that is Terrell Owens.
To analyze this question, one must look at T.O. himself, first. Terrell Owens, long before he was 'T.O.', was born in 1973, in Alabama. According to all reports, his childhood was not a good one, so he buried himself in the one area of life in which he could both succeed, and use as a distraction--sports. While he may not have displayed a tremendous natural ability, he worked hard to earn a starting position during his senior year of high school. He would go on to acheive a fair amount of success playing at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga.
His success at UTC was enough to earn him a third round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 1996. There, he began his playing career alongside his childhood idol, Jerry Rice, and catching balls from then-future Hall of Famer, Steve Young.
His career in San Francisco started out good--not great--but good. In his first four seasons, Owens managed the following numbers: 520, 936, 1097, and 754 yards, respectively. He also had 4, 8, 14, and 4 touchdowns for those same four years. Those are respectable numbers--but not great.
In 2000, the first year Jeff Garcia took over the reigns as San Francisco's QB, Owens began a streak of three consecutive years with over thirteen hundred yards receiving, pulling in over fourteen hundred yards in both 2000 and 2001. He also had three straight seasons of thirteen or more touchdown receptions. This is where Owens began breaking from the pack. In Owens' last season as a 49er, 2003, he had 1102 yards and nine touchdown catches. Then, the wheels began falling off the T.O. wagon.
After the 2003 season, T.O. had vowed to never play football as a 49er again. He intensified an on-going feud with Garcia, going so far as to question Garcia's sexuality publicly. Through a tremendous series of mess-ups involving the failure to void T.O.'s contract, a botched trade to the Baltimore Ravens, and the NFL Players' Association intervention, T.O. finally got what he wanted--he became a Philadelphia Eagle.
To chronicle T.O. from this point forward would be both futile and redundant. All true football fans, and most casual fans, know the story of how T.O. blew the doors off the Eagles last season. Suffice it to say, T.O.'s stay in Philly was short, not-so-sweet, and ended when T.O. became a Dallas Cowboy this past off-season.
In all fairness to Owens, he has been the most covered football player in the NFL by the media, and probably the second most covered athlete in the world the past four years behind Barry Bonds. Most of the attention is probably justified, some is not. The question is, why do the fans care so much about T.O. that makes the media treat him as it does?
The first reason involves a pretty natural emotion we all experience--jealousy. None of us will accomplish what T.O. has in terms of money, fame, even stomach muscles. That naturally makes us scrutinize T.O. more than we would the guy that works in the cubicle next to you at work.
Do you care about this man? Of course you do--liar. (AFP/Getty Images/Harry How)
We especially get disturbed when someone we are jealous of acts like they don't appreciate what they have. Perhaps we as fans thought T.O. was a jerk with Jeff Garcia, or by snubbing the Ravens. We became indignant with T.O. when, after his first season with the Eagles, he demanded more money. When most of us are making middle class wages while gas prices are shooting through the roof, we don't want to see some millionaire jerk, driving around in his Hummer, complaining he needs more millions for playing a game sixteen times a year. While most diehard NFL fans realize these players work very hard to earn their pay all year round, Joe Lunchpail sees it different.
The second reason progresses from the first. When a person makes themselves a target of our ire as T.O. has done, we want to be there when they fall off the pedestal. This is the 'National Enquirer' syndrome. We were all glad to see the Eagles deactiviate Owens last season, then discard him because we saw the message as being, "You aren't as great as you think you are." I think the Eagles are proving themselves correct this season, by the way.
"Oh, how the mighty have fallen." We love that saying. We do, in some circumstances, like to kick a guy when he's down--when we feel he deserves a kick, that is. No one in professional sports, Barry Bonds excepted, is more deserving of a good kick in the jock than Terrell Owens. Most of us would love the opportunity to say, "F.U.T.O." Fortunately, as the media chronicles all of his problems, we feel someone is saying that for us, and we bask therein.
The third reason we are addicted to T.O.'s personal and professional train wreck is Bill Parcells. Most NFL fans have a great deal of respect for Parcells, and he has certainly earned it over the years. When Jerry Jones signed T.O., he sent a message to the 'Tuna'--"I'll do what I want with my team, whether you like it or not." Most of us thought this was a bad fit from day one. So far, Parcells' issues with 'the player' are proving us right.
We do not want T.O. to win this fight against Parcells. We like Parcells because he is--Parcells. We respect Parcells because he is old school, and because he is a proven winner. If T.O. wins the battle, our faith in justice, right and wrong, good and bad is shaken forever. We follow intently hoping to hear the war is over and Parcells has won.
The final reason we are so drawn to all of this is because of T.O. himself. Say what you will about him, there are two things we must credit him for. One, he is a heck of a receiver. Two, he is the best at self-promotion. Granted, he incorrectly believes there is no such thing as bad press--all publicity is good publicity. At the end of the day, you follow the stories so closely because he makes you want to. We don't like it. We can't explain it. We also can't deny it.
For today, all is calm in the T.O. camp. He didn't try to commit suicide (?). He played on Sunday. All is well. It won't stay that way for long. When the next episode erupts, guess what? You will be there. You can't help but gawk at the car crash on the highway, and T.O.'s Hummer will hit another semi soon.