FROM CHATTANOOGA TO CANTON Terrell Owens' road to Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist



In the fifth game of his sophomore season, Terrell Owens set a record in one of the biggest victories in the history of UT Chattanooga (now Chatttanooga). He caught passes for 145 yards and 4 touchdowns, including the game-winner from Kenyon Earl, as the Mocs upset defending NCAA Division I-AA national champion Marshall on Oct. 2, 1993. It was a breakout game in a breakout season. But it came with a reality check.

“The next week we got out to practice ... and [head coach] Tommy West looks at me and said, ‘You think you did something because you scored four touchdowns, you ain't done nothing yet.’ He just brought me right back down to earth. So I just kept plugging away.”

Owens finished his career with 18 more TD catches among 144 receptions and 2,320 yards, still the second most in school history. He caught at least a pass in 20 consecutive games from 1994 to 1995. He also pursued his first love, basketball. He averaged 1.5 points in 38 games, but played in the 1995 NCAA Tournament. The Mocs lost to UConn, 100-71.

“I had the best time of my life playing basketball. I say this with all sincerity ... I probably had a better time playing basketball than I did playing football.”

Owens also ran track at Chattanooga, anchoring the 4×100 relay team at the NCAA Championships as a senior in 1996. But his future was in football.



The player who wore No. 80 at Chattanooga as a tribute to Jerry Rice supplanted Rice as Steve Young's primary target in 1997. After Rice went down with a torn ACL early in the season, Owens finished with 936 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns as the 49ers won 13 games. In 1998, Owens made the game-winning catch as the 49ers rallied for a 30-27 victory against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoffs. He finished with nine catches for 177 yards, 2 TDs, a pair of two-point conversions and a pass completion.

“It was basically, ‘Were we going to be pretenders or contenders?’ I knew it was a long shot, down (28-14). But something had to be said. Something had to be done.”



Controversy remained a hallmark of Owens' career, including his trade to the Baltimore Ravens in 2004. Owens challenged the trade since he was an impending free agent and signed with the Eagles. They reached Super Bowl XXXIX in his first season, losing 24-21 to the New England Patriots. But Owens caught nine passes for 122 yards. “T.O. did a heck of a job,” head coach Andy Reid said. “I was proud of the effort.”



Controversy followed Owens to the Cowboys, who signed him after his release by the Eagles. He had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Cowboys, who also lost both playoff appearances in 2006-07. On Nov. 30, 2007, Owens celebrated a touchdown on Thursday Night Football against the Packers by jumping on the wall behind the end zone, grabbing a fan's popcorn, and dumping it into his helmet. That inspired one of his famous catchphrases:

“Get your popcorn ready!”

Owens played for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009 after his release by the Cowboys and for the Buffalo Bills in 2010 after his release from the Bengals. He finished with 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards, 14.8 yards per catch and 153 TDs in 219 games. He ranks second all-time in receiving yards and third in touchdown receptions.

“I will allow my body of work to speak for itself. For me there's a lot of things that come into question in terms of my character and how I handled certain situations ... There are things I could have done and should have said better."

He played well enough to make the NFL’s All-Decade Team of 2000s. Now it's up to the Hall of Fame Committee to determine whether Owens will be part of the Class of 2017, which will be announced on Saturday. But first you decide.

Should Terrell Owens gets his popcorn ready for Canton?

Sources: University of Tennessee Chattanooga and Pro Football Hall of Fame; photos courtesy Chattanooga Athletics and Getty Images

Created By
Mike Bambach

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