49ers' Owens: Punky or spunky?
January 09, 2003
NEIL HAYES: TIMES COLUMNIST
Many people walked away from the 49ers' dramatic come-from-behind victory over the New York Giants on Sunday with a negative perception of Terrell Owens.
The more I heard people complain about Owens the more I wondered why the same things weren't being said about Jeremy Shockey.
Why do the same people who call Owens a punk describe the Giants' rookie tight end as fiery? Shockey talks as much trash as Owens and can be as demonstrative on the field. Why, then, is Owens considered divisive while Shockey is heralded as an emotional catalyst?
Reputation plays a role. Owens forever will be linked to his shameless celebration at midfield at Texas Stadium two seasons ago. It was one of the most self-absorbed acts in NFL history.
Owens has made many controversial statements through the years. What people don't always understand is that even his most outrageous outbursts contain shards of truth.
A lot of people rolled their eyes when he said race played a role in how others interpret his actions in the wake of his ball-signing celebration in Seattle.
After comparing how he and Shockey have been portrayed following Sunday's playoff game at Candlestick Park, that statement appears closer to the truth than many of us would care to admit.
Numerous people have told me they were disgusted with Owens after Sunday's game even though Shockey was guilty of the afternoon's most immature acts.
It makes you wonder if a double standard exists.
It was Shockey who threw a cup of ice water into the stands, dousing two kids (he later apologized). It was Shockey who made an obscene gesture as he was leaving the field.
If Owens had done those things people would be saying he's out of control. Shockey, on the other hand, is considered a character.
America has always preferred black athletes who are reserved. Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Walter Payton and even Michael Jordan weren't outspoken individuals, and they remain enduring symbols of their sports.
Muhammad Ali was the most outspoken black athlete in history. Is it a coincidence that he didn't become the beloved figure he is today until Parkinson's disease robbed him of his voice?
No one is condoning Owens' acts in the final two minutes of Sunday's game.
He lost his composure and was flagged for taunting Giants defensive back Shaun Williams, who had been taunting him all afternoon, after Tai Streets scored the go-ahead touchdown. When Williams retaliated, offsetting penalties were called.
Moments later, Will Allen intercepted the two-point conversion attempt and headed for the opposite end zone. This isn't college. You can't return a conversion attempt in the NFL, but Owens did the smart thing by chasing after Allen until he was sure it was a dead ball.
Then he did a stupid thing by pushing him out of bounds after the whistle, drawing another flag. Fortunately for him, Williams went after Owens again, drawing an offsetting penalty before being ejected from the game.
Owens wasn't the only one jawing and taunting on the field. If anything, it appeared he was doing more listening than talking, especially in the final two minutes. Defensive end Michael Strahan got in his face. Safety Omar Stoutmire spewed profanities at him during the melee.
The negative perception of Owens' role in the game could've just as easily been a positive one, and we're not just talking about his nine catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, which we've come to expect from him.
Owens took a leadership role by standing up at halftime and inspiring his teammates with a speech. Some 49ers players said his talk helped spark the team to a second-half comeback.
He told reporters afterward how proud he was to be a member of such a great organization. It was impressive listening to him, so it was surprising to hear people criticize him later.
Owens may never be able to live down his reputation, but it's difficult to deny that a double-standard exits.
Center Jeremy Newberry provided the Giants with bulletin board material leading up to the game by saying the 49ers would "kick their (butts)," yet no one condemned him for it.
Some even considered it a positive. It was nice to see the 49ers showing some "fire" before a big playoff game.
The perception would've been radically different had Owens said the same thing.
Tell us what you think on the new 49ers Clubhouse message board.