For the second consecutive year, former 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens was not selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, despite being a five-time All-Pro and second all-time in regular season receiving yards behind Jerry Rice.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young was teammates with both Rice and Owens, and argued that Owens should be in the Hall of Fame, despite arguments that he didn’t ‘elevate his team.’
“Yeah,” Young said when asked if Owens should be in. “Because I played with him, I felt like I knew him. I knew the abilities he had. There’s no question he’s struggled with a lot of things, but in the end, yes.”
Young played with Owens from 1996-99, during the receiver’s first three years in the league. The Owens that Young knew was nothing like the brash, outspoken troublemaker he would later become known as. Young described a young Owens as all business, and went so far as to say that TO is the only player he ever saw work as hard as Jerry Rice.”
“When he came to us, in the first three or four years of his career, we had a really big-name team,” Young began. “Tim MacDonald, Brent Jones, Harris Barton, Derrick Deese. Guys that had been to Super Bowls. Our team was pretty experienced.”
“In 97-98 he would say ‘yes sir’. I said ‘Terrell, call me Steve…I know I’m old, c’mon.’ But he was very respectful. He worked as hard as Jerry Rice — I’ve never said that about anyone else by the way. He was willing to stand next to Jerry and work, and I’ve never seen that before. So to me, what I saw were his physical abilities were incredible. The work ethic, incredible, and a very respectful guy.”
“Then we ended the ’98 season with “The Catch 2″ against the Packers,” Young continued. “Then in ’99, all of those guys left quickly over the next year: myself, Brent, Tim…a lot of the leadership went away. Now he was the leader, and I think he stepped into shoes he clearly wasn’t ready to step into, and you got a sparkler shooting all kinds of ways.
“The team we had in ’98, if Terrell had’ve (spiked the ball on the Dallas) star, we wouldn’t have let him come back to our sideline. We would’ve said ‘no that doesn’t work.’ To me it opened up an avenue where he became a de facto leader and I don’t think he was ready for those shoes.”
Young elaborated on the different sensibilities voters have when deciding what determines a Hall of Famer, and why Owens doesn’t make the cut for many.
“So it’s all about, people have different ways of looking at it, and there’s people that are stuck on the idea of him being on four different teams,” Young said. “Did he elevate the teams he was on? Did you bring out the best in your teammates?’ If the answer is no, then you’re never going to get their vote, because for some people that’s the line. We’re not going over that line. If you fundamentally make your teammates better, you’ll bring greatness to people around you, and if they say ‘no you didn’t,’ then they’re not going to look at your stats.”
“If that’s the case, it’s over before it starts….I’m sure there are some voters that say ‘look it’s a statistical thing’….they’re not asking that question, so for them it’s an easy yes.”
Listen to the full interview below.