TO Should Have Followed Rice's Example
There were superficial similarities between Rice and Owens when they were both 49ers. Both had come from poor backgrounds in the South. Both could take short passes and turn them into long gainers, or get behind defenders to catch deep throws.
But, the similarity ends there.
Rice’s pride drove him to be the very best. We all know the story of how Bill Walsh traded up to get him in the first round in 1985, but what is often forgotten is that most people in the NFL thought Walsh was crazy. Even within his organization, there were doubters. Rice’s collegiate exploits came against low-level competition, and the conventional wisdom in the NFL was that he would struggle against bettter defenses.
Of course, that conventional wisdom was wrong, but only because Rice worked and worked and worked to make it so. He borrowed Roger Craig’s rigorous offseason training program to stay in prime condition, coupling that with nutritional programs. No fast food for Jerry. He drove himself in practice, day after day, never content with what he was doing or what he had done. He admitted that he compared himself with other receivers – but only as a spur to make himself better.
He suffered in his rookie season because he was struggling to learn the offense, and he dropped so many passes early that sportswriters kept a running tab. But by midseason, he had learned the offense and there were seldom any dropped passes after that.
Rice’s conditioning program allowed him to play far beyond the time when ordinary mortals have retired. Playing pro football at 42, as Rice did last season, is a feat almost beyond comprehension. Though a 1997 injury had robbed him of much of his speed, he remained unexcelled at running routes. He wanted to come back even this season, but two coaches who had close ties with him, Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, decided he didn’t have enough left to help. Holmgren let him go in Seattle and Shanahan told him he couldn't guarantee he would even be active for every game. That was no way to go out, so Rice retired.
Though he was understandably proud of his individual records, Rice was always a team man. If he didn’t get the ball as often as he thought he should, he’d let the coach and quarterback know about it – but he was right. Getting the ball to Rice was important to the team’s success. It didn’t matter if he were double covered because he found a way to catch the ball.
His astounding performances brought him all the attention he needed. When he scored a touchdown, he just put the ball down. He saw no need for planned routines to celebrate what he’d done. After all, he’d been in the end zone before.
OWENS DIDN’T follow Rice’s behavioral example. It’s been all about TO, both as a 49er and in a short career with the Philadelphia Eagles that seems about to end.
Even before he started his self-promotion campaign, Owens was never Rice’s equal in consistency. There were too many dropped passes, too many times when he “short-armed” the ball, not reaching for it because he’d be exposed to a hard hit.
Still, there were also those moments of brilliance, most notably in the dramatic 30-27 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC wild card game on January 3, 1998, when he caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Steve Young on the last play of the game, though he was sandwiched between defensive backs Pat Terrell and Darren Sharper.
It was all downhill after that, for Owens and the 49ers. When Owens celebrated a win over the Cowboys in Dallas by dancing on the star in the middle of the field, coach Steve Mariucci suspended him for a game. That only seeemed to intensify Owens need for self-promotion. He devised special routines, from signing an autograph during the game from a pen kept in his sock to taking cheerleader pompons and “dancing” with them after a touchdown.
His performance also deteriorated, as he battled with his coaches and quarterback Jeff Garcia. Despite his unquestioned physical ability, the 49ers were happy to see him go as a free agent after the 2003 season – and, they were right. Football is the ultimate team game, and a disruptive individual like Owens can ruin the team.
With Owens, the Eagles got to the Super Bowl last season, but there were bad moments even with that, as he criticized quarterback Donovan McNabb after the game.
This year started out badly, as he again criticized McNabb before the season, apologizing later. The strife has escalated recently. Owens went public with criticisms of McNabb and the organization, because the Eagles didn’t celebrate his 100th career touchdown. It’s all about TO, remember.
In the Eagles dressing room during the week, former Eagles star Hugh Douglas said, “There are some people in here faking injuries,” a remark which was obviously directed at Owens, who declared that he had an ankle injury when he skipped a Monday practice, though nobody on the Eagles was aware of the alleged injury. Reportedly, Owens and Douglas then got into a serious fight, after which Owens challenged others in the locker room.
His continued criticism of McNabb is unconscionable because the quarterback has played through the pain of a sports hernia and bruised chest muscles all season. He’s a gamer.
IN HONOR OF his achievments, the 49ers will hold a halftime ceremony for Rice at a game this season, retiring his jersey.
Owens whole body is likely to be retired after this season. He’s under suspension by the Eagles now – a team can suspend a player for as long as four games for conduct detrimental to the team – and some observers think the Eagles will simply pay him off for the rest of the season and send him home. For sure, they won’t bring him back next season. Though he technically has five years left on the contract he signed before last season, that contract is like all NFL contracts: a one-year contract with club options for every year that follows. The Eagles can just release him.
Will anybody else want him? Owens will be 32 next season, which means his best seasons are already behind him. He played himself out of San Francisco, went to the team he wanted in Philadelphia and has alienated the whole organization there. Is there any team management stupid enough to think he’ll change if he changes uniforms once again? I don’t think so.
He should have followed Jerry Rice’s example.
NOTE: Since I announced plans for an Eastern Mediterranean cruise next September, I have had several e-mails from readers who wondered why I didn’t choose something like a cruise of the Mexican Riviera or even a cruise to Hawaii. Rather than reply to every such e-mail, I thought I’d explain to all readers here.
My wife and I have always regarded travel as a learning experience. Our trips, mainly in Europe, have not been easy ones. We’ve criss-crossed the continent on trains and walked virtually non-stop through the great cities, shunning tours because we know the unexpected experience can be the highlight of a trip.
Now, we’re extending that philosophy to cruises. We had a great cruise on the Baltic in July, visiting the cities of Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm, which were all delightful.
The opportunity to visit cities like Athens, Istanbul and Cairo/Alexandria is even more exciting to us. There will be shore excursions in each city and, contrary to our position in the past, that’s the only way we’d want to visit the last two of these cities.
I know that most people regard cruises as a time to just kick back, but for those of you who share our curiosity, I welcome you. We’ve had an encouraging response already, but there’s always room for more, so if you’re interested, just e-mail me and I’ll pass it along to the travel agent, Janice Hough, who is working with me on this.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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