On Sunday, the flamboyant NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens was introduced as a new member of the Buffalo Bills, his fourth team in 13 seasons. The thing he said at the press conference that stuck out was that he would not be not changing anything. If I was a Bills fan, that would make me excited and nervous. On the field Owens has consistently been among the most productive receivers in the game. Off the field, Owens has been a nightmare for the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. There has to be a reason a player of this calibre gets shipped off time and again.
A year ago Owens sat at another press conference. This one with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as they announced TO had just signed an extension to his Cowboys' contract. At that conference Owens said: "I'm a Cowboy for life". That lasted 12 months. Owens had a solid season for the Cowboys in 2008, but his constant demands to get more passes thrown his way from quarterback Tony Romo hurt the Cowboys locker room. The Cowboys, a team many predicted to win the Super Bowl, failed to make the play-offs.
Dallas parted ways with Owens, who caught much of the blame for the disappointing season. The Bills swooped just days later to add Owens to their roster. According to the Buffalo media, Owens talked to the Bills' management and their coach, Dick Jauron and convinced them the reports of the problems in Dallas were overblown and that he would be a model citizen in Buffalo. They bought it. Did they not pay attention to how things ended for Owens at his previous three stops? In San Francisco they traded a disgruntled Owens and he promptly questioned his quarterback's sexuality on the way out of town.
In Philadelphia, he again had great success on the field with quarterback Donovan McNabb, but Owens appeared more concerned on how he celebrated his touchdowns than about whether his team won or lost. He also helped the Eagles make it to the Super Bowl in 2004. Owens shook off a bad leg injury to dominate in the title game against the New England Patriots. He had nine catches, but the Eagles lost. All the good will he built up that season with his play was washed away when he criticised McNabb's toughness because the quarterback got sick during the title game. 2005 was a down year for the Eagles; they suspended Owens for four games and then deactivated him for the rest of the season. They were done with him.
This is what bothers me most about how Owens' career has gone. I remember the way he played in the 1997 play-offs. Owens was not a big name then. Early in the 1997 play-off game versus the Green Bay Packers, a young Owens dropped a few passes and you could see how upset he was on the sidelines. He redeemed himself with a spectacular game-winning touchdown catch on the final play of the game. Owens ripped off his helmet and was in tears as his teammates mobbed him. He was an instant star. To me, he peaked at that moment.
Since then all my memories of Owens are of premeditated end zone dances, self-promoting talks with the media and hearing of him backstabbing teammates. To think that he will behave differently in Buffalo is to ignore his history. The Bills think differently. Maybe they have little to lose. This is an average team with a bland national image. In one day Owens changed that. He may change things on the field for them as well. But at the end of the day it can only work out one way?poorly. Like Owens said, he is not changing.