He's made his mark in end zone, sometimes with help of Sharpie

Antics aside, Owens is called 1 of greatest by 49ers' Walsh

Terrell Owens Trade

March 05, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Terrell Owens has danced on the Dallas Cowboys' logo at midfield, precipitating a brawl in Texas. He once scrawled graffiti over a Monday night romp in Seattle with a Sharpie pen, triggering nationwide outrage.

On one excursion to the end zone, he grabbed pompoms from a cheerleader and joined the chorus line. On another, he performed a subtle mime routine.

When it comes to exotic end-zone celebrations, Owens has pushed the NFL envelope either to art form or travesty, depending on your point of view.

One thing is certain, though: Owens knows how to get there.

That fact is often overlooked in an attempt to characterize the 30-year-old wide receiver who has scored 81 touchdowns in eight NFL seasons.

When the San Francisco 49ers traded him yesterday to the Ravens for a second-round pick, the man who drafted him placed Owens on a different kind of pedestal.

"He's one of the greatest athletes the game has seen," said legendary former 49ers coach Bill Walsh. "He could very well be the greatest athlete in football today.

"He has blinding speed and power, and is an excellent competitor."

The player who will inspire Super Bowl expectations in Baltimore next season is not necessarily the same controversial figure who left San Francisco on a proverbial rail yesterday.

Owens was caught on tape last September screaming at offensive coordinator Greg Knapp along the sideline in a loss at Minnesota. Afterward, he opined to reporters that Tim Rattay should be the 49ers quarterback and not Jeff Garcia.

All of which fueled the perception that Owens is a selfish, self-absorbed player prone to bad behavior.

Eric Yarber, his receivers coach with the 49ers last year, said perception and reality don't agree.

"It's nothing but competitive desire," Yarber said of Owens' outbursts. "He wants to win so bad. When things are not going totally our way, he may get a little frustrated. It's not a bad thing; his desire to win is so big.

"Baltimore is getting a gem ... a difference maker."

If Walsh's expectations prove right, the Ravens may even be getting a team leader.

"I think he will reinvent himself in Baltimore," Walsh said. "I don't think you will see much of that [bad behavior]. It's a new environment, a new coach, new teammates. I think he'll come in and be a great asset and be a great leader."

For all of his trademark celebrations, Owens' best signature moments come when he's catching a football. At the modest cost of a second-round draft pick, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller gets a go-to receiver and coach Brian Billick finally gets some balance in his offense.

"My hat's off to those guys," Walsh said. "I think Brian and Matt [Cavanaugh, offensive coordinator] will use him extremely well.

"He gives them a dimension they haven't had. Brian's had to overcome that shortcoming for years. In reality, this is just what they need. You couldn't find this in the draft."

The most obvious beneficiary of Owens' presence, Yarber said, should be running back Jamal Lewis.

"With the great running back they have, they see too many more eight-man [defensive] fronts," Yarber said. "Teams won't be able to bring the safety down with T.O. in there. They'll have to play a legitimate cover-two or a cover-eight, and eventually, they'll have to double him.

"That will make it even better for Jamal. T.O. will add life to Jamal's career."

Yarber, a former Washington Redskins receiver and punt returner, joined the 49ers' staff last year from Oregon State with Dennis Erickson. He had reservations at first about working with Owens, who would earn his fourth Pro Bowl berth last season.

"Me coming from college, I thought I'd get a guy who wasn't going to be coachable," Yarber said. "And he's probably the most coachable receiver I had.

"When you make coaching points to him, he listens, he understands what you're saying. He has a knowledge of the game that impressed me.

"He was totally opposite of the hype."

When Owens pulled a Sharpie out of his sock in Seattle two years ago, the league immediately banned players from carrying foreign objects in their uniform. When he caused a melee by celebrating on the Cowboys' star at midfield, he was fined $24,000 and suspended one week by then-coach Steve Mariucci. Their relationship was never the same.

Yet, Yarber couldn't say enough nice things about Owens.

"I think the world of this guy," he said. "Baltimore is getting a guy that cares a lot. He has a good heart, he cares for his teammates, he cares for the organization.

"On the field, I call him a freak of nature. Nature says a man that big shouldn't be that fast, that quick or that agile. His work ethic is incredible. There won't be a receiver who'll work as hard."

Outrageous, too

Ranking some of the NFL's other outrageous characters:

No. 1.

Name -- Keyshawn Johnson

Skinny -- So annoying, Bucs just gave him the damn gate.

No. 2.

Name -- Warren Sapp

Skinny -- Which was more offensive, bumping a ref or trying to dance like Beyonce?

No. 3

Name -- Jeremy Shockey

Skinny -- Parcells remark means no role in "Queer Eye for the Football Guy."

No. 4.

Name -- Kyle Turley

Skinny -- Already has qualified for Olympic helmet throw.

No. 5.

Name -- Joe Horn

Skinny -- Compared with TD celebration, cell phone in theater not quite so irritating.

No. 6.

Name -- Chad Johnson

Skinny -- "Please don't fine me," sign said. "Don't be a twit and we won't," NFL said.

No. 7.

Name -- Mike Vanderjagt

Skinny -- "Idiot kicker" doesn't miss, except when he talks about Peyton Manning.

- Ray Frager

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