CANTON, Ohio – The Pro Football Hall of Fame will always have its doors open to Terrell Owens, who did not take part in the annual induction ceremony last summer.
David Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, said on The 49ers Insider Podcast that he only wishes Owens had an opportunity to experience the grandeur and the appreciation with which inductees are showered when their bronze bust is unveiled. Owens participated in his own ceremony in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he played college football at UT-Chattanooga.
“It was a hard call to receive when he said he didn’t want to come,” Baker said. “He’s a complex guy and it’s not for me to judge what’s inside of him.”
Baker said he was not disappointed by Owens’ decision.
“I was really disappointed for him,” he said.
Baker added, “He is always welcomed here. Whether he comes or not, he is always welcomed here. His bronze bust is here, and we will guard his legacy here. If he would’ve come, the irony is he would’ve gotten the adulation and the love that he thought was being denied by not being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
Owens, who ranks No. 3 all-time with 15,934 receiving yards, was unhappy he was not among the five-person modern-era induction classes in his first two years of Hall of Fame eligibility. Baker pointed out that Green Bay Packers guard Jerry Kramer, who was named to the NFL’s all-50th anniversary team in 1969, waited 45 years to go into the Hall of Fame in that same class of 2018.
Owens, who played his first eight NFL seasons with the 49ers, is part of a new team of 326 players, coaches and contributors elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as the NFL begins its 100th season. Baker presented Owens with his Hall of Fame ring in a ceremony at Levi's Stadium last season.
Owens will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame in Week 3 after the club returns home to face the Pittsburgh Steelers. Owens remains a part of the 49ers family. Last year, he attended Dwight Clark's memorial service and the dedication of the statues outside Levi's Stadium that commemorates The Catch.
Baker reflected on how he believes the 49ers fit into the fabric of pro football -- and into the larger picture of what he wants to shine through at the Hall of Fame. He credits former owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and former team president Carmen Policy for instilling the values of family within the organization.
“When I think of the 49ers, I think of family. A lot of teams talk about family, but this is a family,” Baker said. “And a lot of that goes to Eddie DeBartolo. He treated it as a family, and to this day, he takes care of players that played for him. That is an enormous statement of how people then want to turn around and play for you.
“What happened to Dwight Clark, they getting together, they’re laughing, they’re getting together one more time. They’re family.”
As Clark battled ALS, many of his former 49ers teammates and many staff members, reunited with him. Nearly every member of the 49ers’ first Super Bowl team attended Dwight Clark Day at Levi’s Stadium during the 2017 season. Clark passed away on June 4, 2018.
“We lost Dwight way too young,” Baker said. “All of us hated to see him go. But it was also a wonderful lesson of a life well=lived. This guy loved, laughed, lived well. And everybody who knows him knows that tinkle in his eye and how he got such a kick out of other people laughing, too.
“And I think the game itself, the competition, the fight, the battle for excellence, there are so many things we can learn. The game itself is bigger than football. It teaches us how to be a part of a family.”