By Jason Keidel
So instead of forming a symbolic circle around the newly minted NFL Hall of Fame inductees — a grand band that includes long-deserving, incredibly good guys, like Kurt Warner and Terrell Davis — the group hug has been broken by mass indignity over the one man omitted.
Turns out Terrell Owens won’t be fitted for the gold jacket of Canton this year. And we’re all supposed to be frothing with fury.
To be clear, Owens, the irascible former wideout who was equal parts pass-catching genius and locker room powder keg, is a Hall-of-Famer, with or without the votes. When someone has over 1,000 catches, 15,000 yards and 150 touchdowns, the argument ends before it begins.
But since when is it news that our conduct follows us?
We know the pro-Owens argument. Beyond his transcendent stats, it’s not the job of the voters to play morality police. Indeed, if we reserved our entertainment dollar for those we liked personally, we wouldn’t see as many movies, buy as many albums or attend as many sporting events. All true. It’s not the job of the voters to sprinkle personal judgment onto the candidates, to toss a personal foul flag after he’s retired. Owens should not be shunned simply because he was a brat.
But we all pay some karmic tax in life. Whether your beliefs lie more in the physical or metaphysical, there’s no doubt that our past impacts our present, and our future. Even when it seems like an apples-to-oranges deal.
Did you think the Eagles sending him home, with pay, would add to his legacy? Or calling out his quarterback after losing the Super Bowl? Did you think those sit-ups in the driveway would accelerate his bronzed bust? Or spiking the ball on the Lone Star?
And for those who lament the politicization of sports, have you ever watched an Olympics? Or a World Cup? You won’t find two more corrupt entities than the IOC or FIFA. Even at home, a watered-down version of this is pretty apparent. In the NFL, it’s obvious the gateway to Canton was narrowed for Michael Irvin and Cris Carter — two surefire HOF talents who were symbolically spanked on their way to immortality. Neither made the first ballot, yet both were good enough.
Can anyone explain why Curt Schilling isn’t in Cooperstown? If this isn’t a textbook case of looking beyond the diamond, after the career, then nothing is. Schilling, of course, has made myriad dubious statements — largely on Twitter — which have spiked the hairs of Hall-of-Fame voters. Yet if you had to win a single baseball game, and could pick one pitcher of his generation, whom would you pick before Schilling?
Doubling back to football, you won’t find a more political crusade than the one forged against Tom Brady. Not to side with Patriots shills, who think No. 12 did nothing wrong or is beyond reproach, but surely there was a happy medium between a fine and a four-game suspension. Even those of us who had no doubt Brady was involved in Deflategate winced at the woeful PR campaign led by Roger Goodell.
Adding to the angst is the fact that Randy Moss will be up for induction next year. Even though he shared many of T.O.’s loquacious and disruptive qualities, Moss has been way more visible and genteel lately in his role as studio analyst. So there’s a sense that No. 84 will bump No. 81 for one more year. Fair? Nope. None of this is fair. It’s just not a world-bending or world-ending event.
Is it fair that Art Monk and John Stallworth were voted down seven times? Or that Lynn Swann was voted down 13 times before squeezing into Canton? For younger fans who didn’t follow or appreciate players from the ’70s or ’80s, Swann and Stallworth were not only the two most prolific receivers of their era, but also essential members of four Super Bowl champions. Not even the GOAT, Jerry Rice, has four rings.
And here’s a little more perspective: Since the AFL-NFL merger, only Rice and Steve Largent made it into the HOF on the first ballot.
Perhaps the most troubling component to the Owens story is the verbiage used to frame his delayed entrance. Terms like “tragic” and “horrific” are tossed about quite promiscuously. Sorry. The violence in Chicago is tragic. The birth and growth of ISIS is tragic. The idea of Terrell Owens waiting longer than he should to be where he deserves doesn’t quite have the contours of tragedy.
If Terrell Owens somehow does not make the Hall of Fame, then there will be elements of horror or tragedy or corruption — or all three. But if or until that happens, this will feel less like a horror film and more like a bad B-movie, directed by some misguided football writers who have no business being in the movie business.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.