The Oakland Tribune

Owens' greatest play: halftime talk
January 06, 2003
Owens' greatest play: halftime talk

By Dave Albee

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Jeremy Newberry's "Booty Call" at the beginning of the week didn't get the 49ers fired up, Terrell Owens' passionate halftime speech Sunday did the trick.

It kick-started a 49ers ascent into one of the most heavenly comebacks of all time. T.O. turned preacher.

"You could see it in his eyes and his face. You could feel his emotions," said 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson. "He felt the spirit, and he was moving it."

After coach Steve Mariucci addressed the team, and it was about to huddle, yell "Go Niners" and head back to the field for the second half, Owens stood up, stepped into the middle of the locker room and did something he's never done in seven seasons and 116 games. He gave a pep talk to the team.

Mr. Sharpie had some sharp words, and they were ready to explode from the cheerleader inside him. He didn't wait around this time for other veteran players like Bryant Young or Dana Stubblefield to take the initiative.

Owens offered his own take to ignite his teammates.

"At that time somebody needed to step up, and he was the guy," said 49ers safety Zack Bronson. "He's a leader in his own way. Everybody feeds off him."

Earlier in the week, Owens had heard something irritating that he stuck in his mind. He was told that, during an ESPN segment called "Pretenders or Contenders," a couple of NFL big-hair, talking-head analysts labeled the 49ers as pretenders in the playoffs. That was the theme of Owens' halftime speech.

"Pretend or contend," Owens said. "I vowed to myself last year after the hard (playoff) loss in Green Bay I was going to do whatever I had to do, whether it was speak up or make plays to try not to let that happen," Owens said. "I know it was a long shot, down 30-14 (actually 28-14), but something had to be said, something had to be done."

So Owens gave the most stirring speech since Bluto in "Animal House." He delivered his message, and it made perfect sense.

"You either go out there and fake it or you're going to go out there and really try and give it your all," said veteran left tackle Derrick Deese. "I think his message was loud and clear."

Owens, who completed a 25-yard pass in the first half (the first of his NFL career), led the 49ers with a career playoff-best nine receptions for 177 yards. His effort was every bit as remarkable as Jerry Rice's team playoff-record 11 catches for 215 in Super Bowl XXIII. Actually, counting Owens' two two-point conversion pass receptions in the second half, he had 11 receptions in the game.

The 49ers' comeback was staged when Owens caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Garcia and then a two-point conversion pass with 2:03 left in the third quarter. As Owens celebrated, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan passed him and pointed to the scoreboard, as if to remind Owens and the 49ers that the Giants were still way ahead 38-22.

However, Owens' spirited words at halftime and spirited play in the third quarter had changed the momentum by then. The only momentum the Giants had was between their lips, which were constantly flapping.

"What changed the momentum is No. 23 (Giants free safety Omar Stoutmire). He wouldn't stop (trash) talking," said Newberry, the 49ers center, who earlier in the week had proclaimed to everyone, including the Giants, that the 49ers would "kick their ass."

"We weren't going to go out like no punks."

In the huddle, Owens kept imploring his teammates to do more to make a difference in the outcome.

"Who can make a (big) play? I can," Owens said. "The other guys kind of chimed in."

Counting two-point conversion plays, the 49ers scored six times on their last four possessions of the game. After Tai Streets scored the go-ahead touchdown with one minute left, the 49ers were huddling for another two-point conversion when Giants safety Shaun Williams crossed the line of scrimmage and good sportsmanship to physically challenge Owens as he stepped away from the huddle.

In the ensuing two-point play, Williams attacked Owens after Owens knocked Giants cornerback Will Allen out of bounds after Allen intercepted a Garcia pass. A melee broke out and Allen ran up to Newberry and slapped him in the facemask.

"I got the last laugh," Newberry said. "They can stay home and watch us play next week."

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