By Chandler Morrison, Sports Editor —
In the midst of a sea of gold and blue at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Terrell Owens enshrined himself to the tune of roughly 5,000 spectators inside McKenzie Arena Saturday afternoon.
And while the eyes of the Scenic City were firmly upon one the NFL’s most controversial players, the world of sports media cringed as it awaited the official Canton enshrinement ceremony just four hours later. So even as his legacy cements itself among the greats, Terrell Owens, if just one more time, had to separate himself from the pack by performing a traditional, time-honored ceremony in a fashion which only he could pull off.
He knew that the elephant stood squarely in the room, and in true T.O. style, he addressed it as graciously as he spiked a football on the Dallas Cowboys’ midfield star many years ago.
“Many of you may be wondering why we are here instead of Canton,” Owens spoke to the crowd almost as an announcement to the entire sphere of sports journalism. “There’s been a lot of speculation and false reports as to why I chose not to be there. It’s not because of how many times it took for me to be voted into the Hall. It’s about the mere fact that the sports writers re not in alignment with the mission and core values of the Hall of Fame.”
Again, Owens was shrouded in controversy, and he dealt with it in an unorthodox manner by incorporating it into a Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, which is usually reserved for a huge deal of gratitude toward those that have helped along the way and for quick, good-natured jabs at those individuals.
The audience in attendance could not help but to call out Owens in pure joy as he sat idly by during the opening hour of his ceremony. From radio personality Jim Reynolds to those that coached him over the years, Owens, almost out of character for the T.O. persona–which he insists is separate from Terrell Owens, the person–watched as those he had impacted spouted off stories of their first encounters and hilarious memoirs from years past.
It was Owens who took over the show as he thanked all those who had helped him along the way: His mother, who is the real Hall of Famer in his book, his family, his coaches, his fans, God, and most importantly his critics, who kept him motivated. He reminisced on his times as a Moc, a 49er, an Eagle, a Cowboy, a Bill, and a Bengal barely able to speak with the constant buzz of applause.
“Don’t be afraid to be you,” he spoke to the McKenzie Arena faithful in summation to his speech. “We have more commonalities than we have differences. This entire speech you thought was about me, this was for you.”
As a standing ovation erupted over Owens, he could do nothing but pause and take in the moment. Those last four words, though, define the controversy he consistently finds himself caught up in.
All those who criticize him have the understanding that he is all about T.O., but to him, the spotlight was a way for him to interact with the hordes of football fans across America when social media was irrelevant. Owens crossed the line and felt almost alive when the cameras flooded on him, and in doing so, he took the descriptive narrative away from those in journalism.
And since that day, the tensions have been high between Owens and those he claimed have kept him out of the Hall of Fame for the time they did. Now he stands proudly adorned with a gold jacket.
He says this was for you. Or at least that’s the story he’s sticking to.