One NFL peer's passionate plea: Put Terrell Owens in the Hall of Fame

One NFL peer's passionate plea: Put Terrell Owens in the Hall of Fame

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:

  1. T.O. wanted to win passionately more than any player I've ever been around in my 12 years in the NFL.
  2. 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.
  3. T.O. was as brash, emblematic, egotistical, appealing and appalling as he portrayed himself to be on the field and thru the media.
  4. 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.

--Chidi Ahanotu
Defensive end
University of California
Sixth round draft pick, 1993
Tampa Bay, 1993-2000
St. Louis, 2001
Buffalo, 2002
San Francisco, 2003
Miami, 2004
Tampa Bay, 2004

Sent from my IPhone 

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense


Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”