Wide receiver Terrell Owens did not advance beyond his status as one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame during voting of the 48-member Board of Selectors on Saturday in Houston.
In the days since Owens was not selected in his second year of eligibility, there has been a lot of debate on the subject. Chidi Ahanotu played 12 seasons in the NFL, and he was a teammate of Owens for one year with the 49ers. It was 2003, and Owens was in his final, tumultuous season with the 49ers.
Ahanotu shared his thoughts on having Owens as a teammate in a letter he wrote to Matt Maiocco, who is a member of the selection committee and advocated for Owens’ election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This letter is being published with Ahanotu’s permission:
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From: Chidi Ahanotu
Date: Tue, Feb 7, 2017 at 10:14 AM
Subject: T.O. In the Hall
To: Matt Maiocco
First off, I, along with many of the Hall voters, did not "like" T.O. I did not appreciate his behavior off the field and in the locker room at times. But I got LOVE for T.O. as a teammate, as an opponent, and for what he represents for the game of football.
While I was his teammate for only one year during my 11th year in the NFL as a member of the 2003 San Francisco 49ers, I can attest to his worthiness probably as well as anyone else could. See, I have a few things in common with T.O. My aunt, Jean Cooper, taught T.O. in elementary school in Alabama. I spent most of my summers there in Alabama even though I grew up in Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. I also played against T.O. for many years and had the opportunity to go to battle against him. And, lastly, the one year I was on the 49ers, I actually sat in the back of the travel bus with T.O. He always sat on bus No. 3 in the last seat on the bus and I always sat directly in front of him or to the side.
Sitting on the bus right next to T.O. was an experience I will cherish for my lifetime. The two of us did not speak. Outside of a head-nod greeting or a hand slap, the road trip to the airports and to the stadiums were filled with silence between us. I sat on that particular bus and in that particular seat for that exact reason, for silence. At 11 years in the league, I cherished that silence away from the seriousness of bus No. 1 that the head coach rode on, and away from the extracurricular activities of bus No. 2 that most of the "cool" players sat on. Nope. It was bus No. 3 that had the occasional family members or straggler, miscellaneous visitors or ball boy or member of the press. It was a rag-tag group to be sure. But it afforded guys like me and T.O. a much-desired peace, quiet and a sort of anonymity. Sitting there in the seat row next to T.O., I learned a lot about him in that year.
In the seat next to T.O., I overheard his conversations on his cell phone. Not because I was snooping or being nosey, but because T.O. would be candidly speaking and didn't care who heard him. Or maybe he just didn't care that I heard him because I had earned his trust -- I guess because I never spoke to him and let him have that peace and quiet that the very back seat in bus No. 3 afforded him. I can tell you these things that are true about T.O. that I learned hearing his personal phone calls:
- T.O. wanted to win passionately more than any player I've ever been around in my 12 years in the NFL.
- T.O. wanted to be a star and have the ball thrown to him over and over again in order to be legendary and to win.
- T.O. was as brash, emblematic, egotistical, appealing and appalling as he portrayed himself to be on the field and thru the media.
- T.O. was one of a kind. He was special . . . like Van Gogh, Mozart, Einstein or Darwin. A fire was lit in him that engulfed his entire soul aflame. The kind that will either drive you mad or drive you to greatness . . . or both. But it is this way with the special ones, the ones that are set apart from you and me and the human race. They are not human. They are something else. Barry Sanders was this way. Deion Sanders was this way. Muhammad Ali was this way. Warren Sapp was this way. Michael Irving was this way . . . T.O was this way.
I began this letter stating that I like many in the media did not "like" T.O. But as his NFL brother, I loved T.O. Because T.O. was the most powerful, graceful shooting comet across the football field I have ever witnessed. I hated playing against him but I loved what his play meant to the game of football. I loved playing with him and walking out to the battlefield with him because every Sunday you knew you had a loaded nuclear missile in your arsenal. None of the off-the-field personality mattered. The game of football is the only thing that mattered. What only mattered was being able to witness the coming of a special force of nature akin to standing on top of the crest of the Grand Canyon or the summit of Mount Everest or the front row at NASCAR.
T.O. was all of that and then some.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a force like that deserves to be in our Pro Football Hall Of Fame. Like the eruption of a volcano we may never see a happening like T.O. ever again.
University of California
Sixth round draft pick, 1993
Tampa Bay, 1993-2000
St. Louis, 2001
San Francisco, 2003
Tampa Bay, 2004
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