NFL’s contenders and pretenders

East Coast Tour, Part II

In defense of T.O.

In defense of T.O.

As the Terrell Owens Era wound down in Philly over the past week, one thing stood out over everything else: Every single media member agreed that Owens deserved 100 percent of the blame. Some went further than others, but the message was always the same.

T.O. is a selfish jerk. T.O. is an idiot. T.O. needs help. T.O. is the worst teammate who ever lived. You can’t win with a guy like T.O. He’s not just a cancer, he’s like a flesh-eating Ebola virus. We might need to institute the death penalty for sports and give him the electric chair live on ESPNEWS.

Terrell Owens

You get the idea. This is a climate in which sportswriters get paid to scream at one another and turn purple on live TV. Radio hosts take wild stands just to keep the phone lines hopping for hours. Columnists thrive on taking dissenting opinions whenever they can, especially on the Internet, where you can stand out simply by riling people up and playing devil’s advocate on every relevant subject. But in the case of Terrell Owens, nobody could think of anything beyond “he’s an idiot” and “he’s a jerk.”

So the question remains: What would a defense of T.O. read like? Lemme give it a whirl. I just have to see if it can be done.

(All right … quiet on the set…)

(And … ACTION!)

Now that we know Terrell Owens can’t return to the Eagles, the question remains: Why is everyone so busy to blame him for everything that happened? In my opinion, the following people and teams deserve just as much blame as Terrell Owens for this mess, if not more…

1. The Eagles

Come on, they knew what they were getting into with Owens — trading for T.O. is like making out with someone whose lips are covered in cold sores. In other words, proceed at your own risk. In fact, after Philly traded for him, here’s what I wrote during Week 2 of the 2004 season, when Donovan McNabb and T.O. were still orchestrating touchdown dances and everyone in Philly was running out to purchase a green “81” jersey:

    “Let’s say you have a buddy who’s dating a crazy chick. You know she’s crazy. Hell, he knows she’s crazy. But everything is cool for a few weeks, to the point that people start saying, ‘All right, maybe she really isn’t crazy, maybe she’s gotten her act together.’ And then a few weeks pass … and she turns into a complete lunatic. She makes Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction’ look like Mrs. Cleaver. Just like you thought. Your poor buddy can’t get out fast enough. And you’re looking back in disbelief that you suckered yourself into thinking this thing could work out. That’s T.O. It’s only a matter of time. But for this week? We’re still in the honeymoon phase.”

Somewhere in the middle of every season, one solid-to-mediocre team in each conference catches fire and goes 7-2 or 8-1 against the spread down the stretch. This year’s candidates:

New England (4-4): Easy sked the rest of the way, terrible division … but do they have anything left in the tank? And is it possible to compete without any competent defensive backs? We’re about to find out.

Jacksonville (5-3): Fairly easy sked — two against the Titans and one against the Browns, Texans, Ravens and Cards. Plus, this is like the 15th straight season where they’ve dealt with Fred Taylor’s on-again, off-again status — they’re used to it by now; it’s like Paris Hilton’s friends finding out that she’s dating another Greek shipping heir.

(Which reminds me, how many Greek shipping heirs are there? Can they release the pictures and profiles of these guys in some sort of yearbook so we could get an exact number? Couldn’t someone turn this into a Web site? What about Topps releasing Greek shipping heir trading cards?)

NY Giants (6-2): Already on a roll (won three straight, covered two), their schedule isn’t too bad, and this whole “Let’s do it for Wellington Mara” thing looks like it could have some legs.

Minnesota (3-5): Love … exciting and new … come aboard … we’re expecting yoooooooouuuuuu … the Love Boat! (Da-da DUH!) Soon we’ll be making another run … (Da-da-da DUH!) The Love Boat! (Da-da duh!) Promises something for everyone!

(Note: Even with the obvious Culpepper/Ewing Theory potential, I don’t think they’re making the playoffs. I just felt like planting the theme from “The Love Boat” in your head for the rest of the day.)

St. Louis (4-4): Quietly, the Rams won their last two and have an easy sked the rest of the way. Plus, I think everyone’s pulling for the interim coach with the NASCAR mustache whose name nobody can remember.

My picks: Jags and Giants.

To repeat: Everyone knew this would eventually happen. So how is that Owens’ fault? For instance, let’s say the guy who committed the Amityville Horror murders, Ronald DeFeo, was released from prison this week. If you had a wife and kids and a three-story house on the Long Island Sound that looked creepy at night, would you rent out your basement apartment to DeFeo and say things like “Maybe a change of scenery will be good for Ronnie” and “I don’t care if the dude has some serious baggage and he’s going to hell some day, the bottom line is that we need wood for the fire and nobody swings an ax better than Ronnie DeFeo?” Of course not. You wouldn’t let him into your house. The Eagles were dumb enough to think T.O. could work out, so blame them over anyone else. Play with fire, you get burned.

2. Andy Reid
Andy, if you’re reading, I’m sorry you weren’t a good enough coach to handle such a “crazy” guy as Terrell Owens — a guy who gave everything he had on every football play, never committed any crimes, wasn’t into drugs and gutted through the Super Bowl playing on a broken leg that hadn’t even healed yet. You’re a trouper. What kept you going, having to put the best receiver in football into your lineup every week? It must have been agonizing. And if Owens rebelled against authority and clashed with teammates, isn’t it your responsibility to keep him in line? Would Vince Lombardi have thrown up his hands and said, “Get him out of here, I’m not man enough to handle this guy,” or would he have tried to coach him? You tell me.

That reminds me, ever heard of wind sprints, Andy? What about that drill where you run in place, then drop down to the ground and hop back up, and you have to keep doing this 100 times? What about someone running laps until he drops? What about covering someone’s mouth with electrical tape during every practice? Not only did you eschew all those options and try to handle Owens like a normal teammate for most of these blowups — when he’s clearly insane, by all accounts — but you handled T.O. with the same look on your face that Michelle Pfeiffer had during the first 20 minutes of “Dangerous Minds.”

Hey, Andy? If you’re looking for a free ride as a coach, why don’t you coach a prep school team in Greenwich, Conn., next season? I guarantee nobody will talk back to you there — maybe that’s your speed. And if you want to see how a real coach handles this stuff, rent the “White Shadow” DVD and see how Ken Reeves handled those lovable thugs at Carver High. You’re telling me guys like Jackson, Coolidge and Hayward weren’t as disruptive as T.O.? Please. No wonder you can’t win a Super Bowl.

3. White people
If Drew Bennett were pulling this crap, would you be this angry? It’s like the old Chris Rock joke, “I haven’t seen white people this angry since they canceled M*A*S*H.” Maybe you white people need to look in the mirror and think about the real reason you hate Terrell Owens. Asalamalakum, my brother.

4. Donovan McNabb
He should have been more thoughtful when Owens was killing himself trying to return from that broken leg last postseason. There’s poor T.O., on an island by himself, doing everything he can to help the Eagles … and there’s McNabb, the alleged leader of the Eagles, pushing T.O. down the stairs with those “We can’t count on T.O. coming back, we believe we’re a good team with or without him” quotes.

Donovan McNabb

Hey, Donovan, don’t you know how that made T.O. feel? You don’t think that completely insane people have feelings? You seem like a smart guy, like you may even understand how some people tick. How did you think T.O. would react to that stuff? Why didn’t you kiss his rear end and make him feel better about himself? Why didn’t you say something like, “We need T.O., he makes us tick, it kills me that we have to try to win without him, I’m not saying we can’t do it, but it’s going to be tough to compete at a high level without someone as great as T.O. out there with us”?

Really, that would have killed you? And then, look what happened in the Super Bowl! Owens defies every medical prediction and returns for the game, then makes a number of big plays and goes over 100 yards for the day … and meanwhile you’re huffing and puffing throughout the fourth quarter and leading the first-ever two-minute drive that could have been measured in dog years. Too much partying in Jacksonville that week, Donovan? See, T.O. couldn’t party that week — he was too busy trying to rehabilitate his broken leg, then watch you give the Super Bowl away because you were keeled over in those fourth-quarter huddles like a 50-year-old guy finishing his third game of full-court hoops at the local Y. Well done. Hope you had a good time at the Maxim party, though. Way to keep your priorities in line. No wonder none of your teammates publicly backed you this week.

5. EA Sports
For sticking McNabb on the cover of “Madden 2006.” EA knows weird things happen to the players who make that cover, it knew McNabb was playing with a lunatic, and it forged ahead, anyway. Some of this falls on EA’s shoulders, right?

6. Hugh Douglas

Here’s the guy who started the fateful locker-room fight with T.O. and made everything worse last week. One problem: Douglas isn’t even on the team anymore! What was he doing in the Eagles’ locker room antagonizing players to the point that T.O. had to get out of his jacuzzi and find his shoes so he would have traction for the fight? If I walked into the Eagles’ locker room last week, could I have started a fight with Terrell Owens? Why wasn’t this an auction on eBay? And Hugh, if you’re reading, your career ended last year — stop hanging out in locker rooms. You’re like the high school linebacker who graduates, doesn’t go to college, then hangs out with his old football buddies the following season and everyone has to keep reminding themselves that he’s not on the team, even though he’s wearing the jacket at parties and everything. Go away.

John Clayton’s First and 10

Week 10 scouting reports

Pasquarelli: Key players of second half

7. The mainstream media
If the newspapers, Web sites, TV and radio stations hadn’t joined forces and gone on a T.O. Witch Hunt, maybe this could have worked itself out and the poor Philly fans wouldn’t have had to watch their Super Bowl hopes go up in flames. Instead, everyone was so happy they could use words like “idiot” and “jerk” in sentences about a modern athlete without coming off as insensitive or racist, it became a free-for-all. I even read a column where someone wondered if T.O. was the worst teammate of all time. Wow, Terrell Owens was a worse person than Leonard Little, who killed a mother in a drunk-driving accident, then got busted for another DUI two years later? He’s a better guy than Terrell Owens? Gimme a locker room with T.O. over Leonard Little any day of the week — at least I wouldn’t be afraid to ask T.O. for a ride home from practice.

8. The Eagles’ organization
I blame them for not doing everything they could to make this situation more palatable. If Andy Reid couldn’t handle him, why have T.O. show up for practices? Why give him a locker with the other players? Couldn’t they have handled this like the Bulls handled Dennis Rodman, when Rodman just showed up for games and they basically took out a restraining order to keep him away from the other 11 players at all other times? This couldn’t have worked with T.O.? Why couldn’t they have built T.O. his own locker room away from everyone else, kind of like how Hannibal Lecter was handled in the asylum? Their big mistake was treating T.O. like a normal human being. They should have known better.

Also, why didn’t they just renegotiate his contract this summer and avoid everything that happened? You had the craziest player (Owens) and the craziest agent (Drew Rosenhaus) aligning here, the football equivalent of the Iron Sheik teaming up with Classy Freddie Blassie in the early ’80s. You really thought those two would handle something as rational as a “Hey, you signed the contract, deal with it” tack throughout the season? Besides, didn’t you owe Owens that extra money for risking his career in the Super Bowl? How ungrateful is that? The guy had a bad agent and signed a lousy contract … and you didn’t make it up to him.

9. NFL fans
Everyone was so busy getting lathered up about T.O. that they missed the big picture. For one thing, what about the comedy of T.O. blowing a $50 million contract because he and his agent believed they could bully the Eagles into tearing it up? What about T.O.’s hysterical second apology (he sounded about as sincere as someone reading from a piece of paper in a hostage video), followed by Drew Rosenhaus’ over-the-top, career-ending performance that came straight out of a bad “Playmakers” episode? Seriously, has anyone in the history of sports or entertainment shot himself in the foot quite like this, with the possible exception of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance that killed her career and led to the disturbing photo of her weighing an estimated 160 pounds in this week’s Star Magazine?

Instead of vilifying T.O., let’s embrace the weirdness of the situation. Like the inevitable lawsuit. Like Cris Carter inevitably snapping on HBO during a T.O. discussion and getting bleeped 20 times. Like Peter King angrily whipping a triple nonfat latte across a Starbucks in Newark Airport at 3 a.m. as he reads T.O.’s latest nutty quote. Like a middle-aged white sportswriter screaming about this topic on “Around the Horn” or “Cold Pizza,” then getting so worked up that his head explodes on live TV. Like Rosenhaus’ inevitable appearance on “Quite Frankly,” which could redefine the Unintentional Comedy Scale as we know it. Like Owens taking some sort of anger-management course, or maybe even going on Prozac and claiming he’s now fit to play in the NFL. Like another team being dumb enough to sign Owens and think it could work out.

One of my readers, Phoenix’s Doug Lazovick, came up with the best reason to enjoy and cherish the T.O. Saga: “The whole T.O. debacle has created perhaps the most exciting possibility in the history of the NFL. He is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary talents in football; however, any team would be crazy to give this guy a long-term contract. What I see happening is that each week, teams that are in a must-win situation would bid for T.O., with the highest bidder getting to sign him to a one-week contract. That means T.O. would become the first real fantasy NFL player.”

Imagine the possibilities. Ashley Lelie pulls a hamstring in Week 2, he’s out for two weeks … Denver replaces him with Owens. Oakland loses Randy Moss to a death in the family on a Friday, T.O. makes it to Oakland within three hours for that day’s game. They could even set up the waiver wire like fantasy football, where the team with the worst record gets first dibs every week, and you have to log on at 3 a.m. to see who gets him. See, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel here. In his own unique, bizarre, dysfunctional way, Terrell Owens has made the NFL more fun for everyone. That certainly doesn’t sound like a jerk or an idiot to me.

(And … SCENE!)

Thank you, thank you very much. See, I told you it could be done.

And now that we have that settled, I’d like to go on record as saying that Terrell Owens is an idiot and a jerk.

On to the picks for Week 10 (home teams in caps)…

Chiefs (+3) over BILLS
I loved what the Chiefs did against Oakland last week: One yard away, do-or-die, let’s punch this baby in for the victory. You pull that off, I’m picking you the following week. With that said, I don’t like the way Trent Green is playing at all — he’s not accurate at times, can’t throw deep and doesn’t move around well anymore. It’s all dink-and-dunk stuff. Around the goal line, he’s useless. Do you realize he’s on pace for 3,800-plus yards but just 14 TD passes? Maybe he won’t hurt them this weekend, but he’ll hurt them in those AFC West showdowns coming up.

Note: The readers keep asking me to assign special significance to my favorite picks, so I like the following four teams the most: 1) Chicago; 2) Denver; 3) St. Louis; 4) Miami.

(By the way, I’m cool with Larry Johnson being called “LJ,” and here’s why: If you have the exact same name as the athlete who made the nickname famous, the I think it’s OK to assume the nickname, as well. For instance, if there’s another Mordecai Brown some day, we absolutely have to call him “Three Finger” whether he has 10 fingers or not.)

Redskins (-1) over BUCS
Isn’t Chris Simms turning into the poor man’s Scott Mitchell? And did you even think that was possible?

DOLPHINS (+3) over Patriots
My vote for “worst trend of 2005”: Coaches splitting carries between quality running backs and diluting their fantasy value. First, it’s not fair to the millions of losers who live and die with their fantasy teams every week (like me, for example). Second, you’re putting some fans in the awkward position of watching someone like Holmes get knocked semiconscious, then immediately getting excited because they have Larry Johnson on their team (which just makes everyone feel crummy). And third, there aren’t nearly enough good running backs, anyway — why hoard them? I just think it’s selfish. Some poor fantasy fool has to start Sam Gado this week; meanwhile, Nick Saban is juggling Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams like he’s toggling between two channels on a TV screen. You can go to hell, Nick Saban.

(And yes, I have Ricky and Ronnie on my East Coast fantasy team. I will now snort a spoonful of healing cayenne pepper.)

Rams (+6.5) over SEAHAWKS
Aren’t we due for one of those catastrophic Seahawks collapses soon? It’s almost like when you know it’s time to get another haircut. If only this game were on CBS, they could have keep cutting to commercials for that “Category 7: The End of the World” disaster movie as the Hawks were self-destructing. Randy Quaid, Shannen Doherty, Tom Skerritt, Gina Gershon … and Matt Hasselbeck as Matt!

BEARS (-13) over Niners
Have a couple of thoughts on this one…

1. You don’t have to thank me for the Bears’ bandwagon. Seriously, I’m happy to help, it’s my job. No, come on, you don’t have to. Please, sit down. You’re welcome, you’re welcome. Come on, this is awkward. Just stop. Fine, we can hug. OK, that’s enough.

2. Kyle Orton has officially reached Trent Dilfer Memorial “I’m not gonna kill you, and I can even make a few throws when it matters to help you win a close game against a crappy team” status. You can win 10 games with a guy like that.

3. During the Giants-Niners game two weeks ago, they showed a No. 10 on the Niners flying around special teams trying to make a play, and it seemed like a QB, and then the announcers pointed out that it was Cody Pickett, and I remember making the obligatory, “Wow, he’s the 21st-century Jim Jensen!” comment to myself before flicking channels. A few minutes later, I came back … and Pickett was taking snaps in the actual game. Ladies and gentleman, your 2005 San Francisco 49ers!

4. Two days after that game, they named Pickett the starter and signed Jesse Palmer as his new backup, which happened so abruptly that Jesse had to cancel his scheduled appearance as the emcee of FHM’s Top 100 Hottest Foreign Brunettes party. Once again, ladies and gentleman, your 2005 San Francisco 49ers!

Cards (+3.5) over LIONS
Forget the game — I’m more excited for the postgame handshake between Kurt Warner and Joey Harrington.

Hang in there.

No, you hang in there.

No, you hang in there.
No, seriously, you hang in there.

GIANTS (-9.5) over Vikings
Interesting point from L.A. reader Mike Landers after my Manning-Manning column two weeks ago: “Fine, Eli Manning is a good QB, and he will continue to get better. But, for the sake of the NFL and football fans around the world, it is your duty and every other sportswriter’s duty to comment about Eli’s draft fiasco after every compliment you throw his way. What he did was worse for the NFL than anything the Vikings, T.O. or any Raiders fan has done in the last five years. Why bother having a draft if players can decide that they won’t play for what they view as a subpar team? Maybe I’m being a broken record but I cannot and will not ever cheer for Eli Manning regardless of what team he ever ends up on.”

Point taken. And while we’re on the subject, if Manning knew then what he knows now, would he really have passed up the chance to play with LDT and Antonio Gates in 80-degree weather for the next 10 years? Can somebody ask him this after spiking his mixed drink at a Manhattan nightclub with four cc’s of truth serum?

(Speaking of the Giants, as my friend Shek astutely pointed out when we were watching football last weekend, couldn’t they have found a better picture of Wellington Mara to circulate for the TV stations after he passed away? Why do they always show the latest and most unflattering picture possible of a late celebrity, with one exception: Elvis? Why did Elvis get a free ride?)

Texans (+17.5) over COLTS
The ol’ Letdown Game! One of my favorites. By the way, I forgot to mention in the Vikings paragraph that the Daunte Culpepper Fantasy Support Group would like to thank everyone for their time, patience and understanding over these past few weeks. Please refrain from mailing your own feces to Daunte in the hospital — they have security dogs sniffing every package that comes in. It’s over. Let it go. Thanks again.

JAGS (-6.5) over Ravens
Newspaper blurb of the week, courtesy of Sports Weekly: “With [Jamal] Lewis stuck in his season-long rut, the Ravens had to turn frequently to quarterback Anthony Wright. He completed 61 percent of his passes, throwing six TDs and nine interceptions. In his last two games, Wright was 3-for-16 for 30 yards in the red zone. But Kyle Boller should be back to try to revive the offense after missing seven games with a toe injury.”

(Lemme tell you something … any time the words “Kyle Boller” and “try to revive the offense” are in the same sentence, you know your season’s over.)

FALCONS (-9.5) over Packers
Poor Brett Favre. Wow. Holy schmoly. This is like seeing Noah Wyle finishing out his contract on “E.R.” last season, when he was moping through the hospital scenes and you’re thinking, “Just kill him already, run him over with an ambulance or something!” — only you know he still has, like, seven episodes to go.

Jets (+9.5) over PANTHERS
You know the NFL quarterbacking situation is in tough shape when I’m watching the Jets-Chargers game with a bunch of friends on Sunday, and we have the obligatory, “You know, Brooks Bollinger isn’t terrible” conversation … and none of us are kidding.

(Random question: Why does Steve Smith have huge games only when someone trash-talks him? Does this transfer to other activities? If I were playing pool against him in a bar, and I talked some smack, would he immediately run the table on me? What if he entered the Hot Dog Contest in Coney Island and Kobayashi started talking smack to him? Would he throw down 150 dogs? Is it just a good idea to never talk trash with Steve Smith about anything? Can somebody find out? And speaking of inexplicable story lines about the Panthers … )

Renee (-9) over Angela
One of the greatest high-lows in the history of the Internet: Finding out that two NFL cheerleaders were going at it in a bathroom stall and eventually arrested … and then seeing the pictures of the two cheerleaders. I mean, I haven’t felt that letdown since Teri Hatcher’s topless scene in “Heaven’s Prisoners.” Is there a way for everyone to chip in to convince Angela not to pose naked for Penthouse? I’m in for $20.

(Speaking of the cheerleaders, I agreed with this e-mail from Chicago reader Adam B.: “Hope you caught ‘Inside the NFL’ this week, when Cris Carter had this gem to say about the Carolina Panthers cheerleading situation: ‘If they let the cheerleaders date the players, then they wouldn’t have to go make out with each other.’ This caused Cris Collinsworth to show the ‘Is that Janet Jackson’s nipple?’ face. I think this should be nominated for the Faces Hall of Fame.”)

Browns (+8) over STEELERS
Let’s just say that Chaz Batch looked a little rusty last week. Literally. He looked like Rusty Hilger.

EAGLES (-3) over Cowboys
Burning questions: If the Eagles can’t run the ball with Brian Westbrook, why would it be a good idea to give him $25 million over five years when it seems like he’s a third-down back? What’s the difference between a hernia and a sports hernia? How many people were injured in the Reggie Brown Fantasy Stampede this week? How many Marion Barbers are we up to at this point? What would happen if T.O. bought a ticket and just sat in the stands with a big smile on his face? And why do I feel like the Eagles have Ewing Theory written all over them?

Broncos (-3) over RAIDERS
After the Colts-Pats shellacking, I thought about flying my buddy Gus (a diehard Broncos fan) to a log cabin in the mountains of Russia, just so I could give this speech to him in person, but I settled for doing it over the phone because it was considerably cheaper. Anyway, here’s what I told him:

“Bill Belichick was like my son. I raised him. And when the Patriots’ defense died on Monday night, a part of me died, too. But now you’re the one. You’re the one that’s gonna keep Bill Belichick’s spirit alive. You’re the one who’s gonna make sure that his defense didn’t die for nothing. Now you’re gonna have to go through hell. Worse than any nightmare you ever dreamed. But in the end, I know the Broncos will be the one standing in the AFC. You know what you have to do. Do it. DO IT.”

Last week: 6-7-1
Season: 67-60-2

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available on and in bookstores everywhere.

Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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