Good News for 49ers: Owens Is With Eagles
by Glenn Dickey
Sep 13, 2005

THE 49ERS meet up again with Terrell Owens in Philadelphia on Sunday. The good news is that this time, he’s on the other side of the field.

I say that even though one of the 49ers weaknesses this year is the lack of a go-to receiver. Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd are both solid receivers, but neither one is the kind of receiver who forces defenses into double coverage, thus opening up the field for the other receivers.

Owens is that kind of receiver, but he’s still not worth the trouble.

He would be especially devastating for the 49ers this year. Mike Nolan is building a structure for a winning team. That doesn’t mean that this team will be in the playoffs, but the attitude and enthusiasm he has instilled enabled the 49ers to beat the Rams and it will be the springboard for many winning seasons in the future.

Owens would have completely destroyed that process.

Frankly, I’m not sure he’s even worth it to the Eagles, as much as they need his skills to complete their physical team. In a year, he has alienated his quarterback and his coaches, both head coach Andy Reid and his assistants. That may be fatal to the Eagles’ chances because, in football, it’s essential that players think as a team.

It isn’t in baseball. The idea that a team needs “good chemistry” is mostly an invention of the media, the most recent example being what’s written about the Los Angeles Dodgers.

We have only to look at the Giants to see how ridiculous that concept is. Barry Bonds exists within his own little bubble, having little to do with his teammates; he doesn’t even bother to pose for team pictures. But when Bonds was healthy, he was by far the single biggest reason for the Giants’ success – and his importance was underscored when he finally returned to action last night.

When Jeff Kent was here, he and Bonds hated each other, but the two of them were big run producers on the field. In an earlier era, Will Clark had issues with Jeff Leonard and Kevin Mitchell, but all three players were important to the success of the Giants in that period.

In other sports, though, dysfunctional teams break down. The Lakers self-destructed because Kobe Bryant decided he wouldn’t throw the ball to Shaquille O’Neal. That happened to the Warriors much earlier, in the 1976 playoffs, when his teammates were so annoyed with Rick Barry that they wouldn’t pass him the ball.

In football, the ultimate team sport, players all have to work together. No matter how talented a player is, if he doesn’t contribute to a winning attitude, he hurts the team. Randy Moss is, I believe, the best receiver in the NFL, but the Vikings were so tired of his act that they traded him for much less value, a first-round draft choice and an underproducing linebacker – and the Raiders were the only team willing to give them that much.

FOR THE 49ERS, the Moss/Owens individual antics run counter to their tradition during the years when they won five Super Bowls.

The star players of that time were not into individual histrionics. That point was brought home once again when Jerry Rice retired last week. When Rice scored a touchdown, he just laid the ball down. As the saying goes, he acted as if he’d been in the end zone before. Indeed he had, an NFL record number of times.

Joe Montana’s signature was raising his arms in the touchdown signal. Steve Young was more exuberant, befitting his personality, but there was no celebratory taunting of opponents. Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Dwight Clark. . . They all did their jobs without trash talking.

With their attitude and their exemplary worth ethic, the 49ers stars set the example for younger players. None of the stars tried to command extra attention for their individual exploits. It was all about the team, and about the team winning. When Craig fumbled in the NFC Championship game in the 1990 season, allowing the New York Giants to thwart the 49ers hope for a “Three-Peat”, he was devastated – because he thought he’d let the team down.

Owens came into that tradition and, at first, seemed to be following it, working hard in practice and improving his skills until he replaced Rice as the 49ers main receiving threat.

Once that happened, though, it became all about the individual for Owens. He started looking for more and more ways to demonstrate, from pulling a Sharpie out of his sock to mock dancing with pompons. He sniped at his quarterback, Jeff Garcia, and his coach, Steve Mariucci. He made some big plays, but he also "short-armed” passes, leading to interceptions. He started missing practices, ostensibly to avoid injury; Derek Smith, a teammate at the time, implied in an interview with Chronicle beat writer Kevin Lynch that Owens was simply looking for a way to get out of practice.

By that time, all of the great leaders from the previous era were gone, so there was no check on Owens’ behavior. The positive example from the past had turned into a negative, and the 49ers were relieved to see Owens leave after the 2003 season.

The Eagles were delighted to get him because he seemed to be the missing piece for them, and Owens played well last season, even coming off injury to excel in their losing Super Bowl effort. But the real T.O. emerged in the offseason, as he criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb and demanded that the contract he had just signed the previous season be re-negotiated. When it wasn’t, he came to camp but was sent home for a week after an argument with Reid.

THE EAGLES need Owens’ physical skills, but they’ve also realized how disruptive he can be. I suspect they’d trade him if they got the right offer, but they’re not likely to get one that’s tempting. Because of Owens’ reputation, any trade will be a fire sale.

The 49ers can only look at that situation with relief. They’re doing a serious rebuilding job, with 10 draft choices and one rookie free agent (Otis Amey) on their 53-man roster. Their veteran players are all hard-working – linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was in for every one of the Rams’ 89 plays on Sunday – with a great team ethic.

They don’t need Terrell Owens to change that dynamic.

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