I remember picking up an Examiner back in 1996. I scanned for capsules on the San Francisco 49ers’ draft class, hoping these rookies would be ready to further the franchise’s tradition of winning.
On paper, there was no rookie that really excited me. Second-round pick Israel Ifeanyi, out of USC, played in only three career NFL games, and the only thing really cool about this class was their two seventh-round picks, identical twins Sean and Sam Manuel.
The 49ers salvaged this otherwise forgettable draft by selecting a little-known wide receiver from Tennessee-Chattanooga by the name of Terrell Owens.
John Taylor — one of the most underrated receivers of all-time — retired, leaving the 49ers with the inexperienced Owens and second-year wideout J.J. Stokes to play alongside the legendary Jerry Rice.
Little did I know then that it’d be Owens — and not Stokes, who the 49ers famously traded a boatload of picks to draft No. 10 overall — who blossomed into a Hall of Fame-caliber wide receiver.
He’s one of 18 finalists in consideration for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame committee members will vote this Saturday, and who knows if Owens is going to be part of the Class of 2018.
Personally, I loved Owens. I still own an authentic Owens jersey. He did everything he could to meet the standard met by Rice, tallying 592 receptions for 8,572 yards and 81 touchdowns while earning three All-Pro nods in his eight years as a Niner.
Overall, he ranks second all-time on the NFL’s all-time receiving list with 15,934 yards, and he’s third with 153 touchdowns — three behind Randy Moss, who’s one of the 18 finalists.
Owens is no doubt one of the top 5-10 receivers of all-time and should have an NFL Hall of Fame bust, but his shenanigans on and off the field are unquestionably the reason why, despite his gaudy numbers, he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Despite his immaturity and lack of leadership, the 49ers organization and fan base grew to adore Owens.
The pity I’ve felt for him the past two years dissipated quickly two days ago, when the 6-foot-3, 230 beast — who could run every route and turn a 5-yard hitch into an 80-yard touchdown — responded to a question from TMZ Sports regarding the team he’ll choose to represent in the Hall of Fame.
Owens replied, “it won’t be the Niners.”
I’m not surprised because this is who he’s become: a great player whose diva tendencies overshadowed his elite production.
This is a fan base and franchise that basically raised Owens when he was a shy kid from Tennessee with braces, and showed him love even as he was forcing his way out of San Francisco due to a contract dispute. Owens wanted to renegotiate his deal, the team was reluctant to meet all of his terms. And so he sulked through a season of drops and tantrums before leaving.
It was a hideous end to a great run.
And despite moving on and continuing his dominance at the receiver position, his character helped divide a locker room in Philadelphia and get dumped in Dallas.
It’s unfortunate. Owens’ actions make it tough to like him.
Hopefully, he’ll get his gold blazer this time around and he’ll deliver a memorable Hall of Fame speech in August. I’m rooting for him.
But after hearing his comments the other day, it reminded me why he’s not beloved around these parts like he should be.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.