That NFL Legend at UTC Saturday? That Wasn’t T.O., That Was Terrell

Aug 5, 2018

Terrell Owens gives his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on August 4, 2018.
Credit Angela Foster/University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

After years of rejections, controversial NFL legend Terrell Owens is finally in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He accepted the honor—but rejected the invitation to join other players on Saturday at the induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

No other player has ever blown off the Hall of Fame like this. The incident seems to be getting Owens far more attention that if he’d simply said yes to the invitation.

And Owens has frequently been criticized as arrogant and self-promotional. (His touchdown celebrations are legendary, and he’s infamous for shouting “I love me some me!” on the field.)

“It’s the most T.O. thing that Terrell Owens has ever done,” Jarrett Bell wrote about Owens’s decision to skip Ohio.

“I think Terrell is selfish,” Charles Barkley said. “He’s doing the wrong thing.”

Instead of being honored with eight other players at the Hall of Fame, Owens became the center of attention at his own separate, self-organized induction ceremony in a campus arena at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, his alma mater.

OWENS’S RATIONALE?

Owens gave a couple of reasons. First, basically, he intended to draw attention to the Hall of Fame’s selection process, which he claims is flawed. Sports writers vote in Hall of Fame nominees, and at first, they snubbed him (apparently because many of those writers viewed him as disruptive; as a player that teams “couldn’t wait to get rid of.”) Owens was first eligible for the Hall in 2016, but wasn’t voted in until this year.

“The sports writers are not in alignment with the mission and core values of the Hall of Fame,” he said.

He claims sports writers misconstrue him, mistaking his passion for arrogance. Besides, Hall of Fame selections should be based on performance, not personality.

Fans say, if he is egotistical, he has the talent and the accomplishments to back it up.

They love Owens, and he loves them—he said his event Saturday at UTC was also about giving back to them. That was his second reason for choosing Chattanooga instead of Canton, Ohio.

“This is for you!” he told the crowd at his alma mater.

Eric Winters was one such fan. He watched with his son, and appreciated it. If Owens had gone to Ohio, Winters would have missed this.

“So, you know, it's historic to me,” Winters said. “I just wanted my son to be a part of that, and we can look back and say hey, we were there.”

T.O. SKIPPED OHIO. TERRELL CAME TO CHATTANOOGA.

Reflecting on his career, Owens describes himself as two different people: “T.O.,” the exuberant, controversial player; and “Terrell,” the original, everyday version of himself—the one who got his start as a Chattanooga Moc.

You could think of “T.O.” as his infamous public persona, and “Terrell” as his mild-mannered secret identity.

Skipping Ohio, courting more controversy, earning more derision, blasting Hall of Fame voters—that’s classic “T.O.”

“Terrell” is the one who showed up at UTC Saturday and spoke to a crowd of 3,000 fans. During the ceremony, he came off as humble and sincerely grateful. He profusely thanked his family, former coaches, and fans. He asked people in the crowd who’d ever felt ostracized to stand up, so he could stand in solidarity with them. He teared up when his mother presented him with his gold Hall of Fame jacket, and teared up again remembering his deceased grandmother.

“This entire speech, you thought was about me, this was for you,” he said to the crowd.

Terrell seemed to truly mean it.

WEB EXTRA

At a press conference after the ceremony, Owens talked about the difference between "T.O." and "Terrell." Listen to his full comments: