Former 49ers wideout Terrell Owens had the statistical credentials to be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, but his sometimes combative relationship with the media and boisterous personality had kept him off the list of those enshrined for his first two years as a candidate.
But following a speech from the late Terez Paylor, a national NFL writer at Yahoo Sports, there was a palpable shift in the room, and Owens ended up being part of the Hall of Fame's 2018 class of inductees.
Owens only learned of Paylor's passionate appeal for the wide receiver after the journalist's passing on Tuesday at age 37, and told Newsday's Bob Glauber about how much he appreciated the sentiment.
"I get glassy-eyed just thinking about it," Owens told Glauber. "My condolences to his family. It’s so sad. I didn’t hear anything about Terez and his perspective and how they were deliberating on me. It’s so unfortunate that I’m learning of this after this man’s passing. Honestly, I wish I could have spoken to him to say thank you for what he did.
"What he did is what I did," Owens said. "You’re being courageous. You’re standing up, sometimes against giants. For him to be that young in a room of elders and people that have been on that committee for some time, that speaks volumes."
NBC Sports Bay Area 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco was the voter who presented Owens' candidacy in 2017 and 2018, and told Newsday about how Paylor's pitch turned the tide of the selection committee, which consists of 48 members.
"To hear a young Black man talk about what drew him to the sport that he loved and what made an impression on him as a young man growing up was a perspective that I had personally never considered when it comes to that [Hall of Fame meeting] room," said Maiocco.
"There’s the old saying that you know what a Hall of Famer is when you see him. Terez basically said that, growing up, that’s what a Hall of Famer in his community, among his friends and the people who shared the same experiences, looked like. Boom, that right there, that’s a Hall of Famer. I think that opened people’s eyes to a new perspective and a way of defining what a Hall of Famer is."
Owens is third in NFL history in receiving yards (15,934), third in receiving touchdowns (153) and eighth in receptions (1,078).
Over his eight seasons with the 49ers, Owens led the NFL in receiving touchdowns twice (2001, 2002) and receiving yards per game once (2000).
Many in the NFL have spoken in the wake of his death about the pleasure of working with Paylor, and clearly his words about Owens made an impact on his place in the Hall of Fame, and that fact clearly resonates with the legendary wide receiver.
"For [Paylor] to have the courage to stand on the table . . . he didn’t know me personally, but I think him being a Black man and being a young guy and understanding where this generation is now, using our voice, is meaningful," Owens told Newsday. "I just wish I could have thanked him."