T.O. wallowing in his own martyrdom

September, 29, 2009
9/29/09
2:35
PM ET
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Terrell Owens has had a love-hate relationship with the media over the years, but things have taken another nasty turn this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Poor Terrell Owens.

In 20 years of covering sports, I've never come across a media phenomenon like T.O. Nothing can compare to the drama he causes -- partially self-inflicted, partially media-driven, wholly audience-demanded.

In the six months he has been a Buffalo Bill, I've been exposed to the madness.

I was the guy who asked Owens about Michael Vick back in July. What unraveled afterward was astounding to me. I was given a glimpse at what Owens has dealt with over the years. I felt badly for what he endures.

Reaction was intense. Commentators bellowed that Owens couldn't help himself, suggesting he walked to the microphone and read from a prepared statement to rail against NFL injustice. Fans exploded on the media for badgering Owens into answering controversial questions.

Neither was the case. I simply asked a prominent football player what his opinion was on a national issue, and he graciously provided it without any animus. Owens seemed genuinely appreciative the topic had been broached. We chatted about his new cleats afterward.

Three weeks ago, I defended Owens' sense of humor when he jokingly told New England Patriots reporters on a conference call that he didn’t like Buffalo's no-huddle offense. Some outlets turned his off-handed comment into headlines that declared Owens hated the no-huddle.

On Sunday, I asked Owens questions at a news conference minutes after his streak of 185 games with at least one reception was snapped in a 27-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Now Owens is acting like a victim, and this time I don't feel one bit moved.

On Sporting News Radio, Owens told "Two Live Stews" co-hosts Doug and Ryan Stewart the media is out to get him. Owens claimed we're trying to goad him into throwing teammates under the bus.

Not nearly. With the questionable decisions being made by the Bills' front office and head coach Dick Jauron, we don't need his help to identify culprits.

What we want from Owens is his opinion. As a player who gladly acts larger than life, is cashing paychecks for $6.5 million this year, induced thousands of fans to plunk down hard-earned money for tickets to watch him perform and has so far been mostly irrelevant on the field, Owens' comments are germane.


All those Billeivers who spent $80 on Owens jerseys deserve to hear from him, especially when he and supposed 1-2 punchmate Lee Evans have combined for 13 catches, 186 yards and two touchdowns.

AP Photo/Mike Groll
Terrell Owens' streak of 185 games with at least one catch was broken last Sunday.
Twenty-one individual receivers and four tight ends have more yards. Thirty individuals -- 15 receivers, 11 tight ends and four running backs -- have more catches.

But Owens had refused to speak with reporters after each of Buffalo's first two games: a tough loss to the Patriots on opening night and a comfortable victory that included Owens' first Buffalo touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The NFL agreed that Owens couldn't dodge reporters anymore. He had to speak after games. As Owens' luck would have it, he didn't catch a pass for the first time since his rookie season 13 years ago.

But we didn't crowd around his locker or shove microphones in his face. We were summoned to a spacious interview room. He stepped onto a riser and stood behind a podium.

Owens arrived to his postgame news conference already in his spiffy street clothes and wearing sunglasses. It takes reporters less than five minutes to get from the Ralph Wilson Stadium press box to the interview room. He beat some of us there, somehow changing out of his gear (he couldn't have showered) and getting dressed within moments of the game clock hitting 0:00.

Then he delivered condescending answers to legitimate questions about his streak ending, the play calling and quarterback Trent Edwards' decisions.

Instead, Owens patronizingly repeated "Just going with the plays that are called" over and over again.

Diplomatic and measured NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy found Owens' snarky act distasteful. Dungy is a devout Christian who rarely finds fault in people. He vouched for Vick.

"You really don't want that," Dungy said of Owens' news conference behavior. "But I think you know that's what you get with Terrell Owens. When things aren't going well, you're going to get stuff like that. That's hard to coach."

I guess Dungy's out to get T.O. After all, Dungy's a part of the dastardly media now.

We wouldn't have cared what answers Owens gave as long as they were thoughtful and didn't waste our time. Instead, he dared us to write about his petulance.

Now he's upset that we took him up on it.

Here's what he told the Stews:

"It really just shows you the angle that the media has taken all these years," Owens said during the interview. "Over the years I've always kind of spoken openly about whatever is being asked with my answers, so the last four or five years I've kind of noticed that and tried taking some steps to prevent some of those things from happening.

"I know the last two teams that I've been on, I felt like I left those teams prematurely due to media interviews that I've done and things kind of taken out of context and they created sort of a media whirlwind in the locker room and things kind of went downhill from there. I'm just trying to do the best job I can do as far as answering the questions and trying to be a better teammate and not try to throw people under the bus."



The questions we asked Owens weren't out of bounds. We asked Edwards and Evans and slot receiver Josh Reed and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt the same questions about the play calling. I asked running back Fred Jackson, who has three times as many receptions as Owens, similar questions about Evans and Owens being wasted.

All of those men were just as bitter about the loss as Owens was and still tried to provide insightful responses. But none can tell us what Owens thinks about the offense. Only he can.

"When it comes down to it, when things aren’t going your way you need to have something, kind of a game-changer, a big play and to take a shot at some point," Evans said. "The one shot that we did take, we just missed it. That was tough, but we should've had a few more of those and we didn’t.

"We knew what they were going to try to come in and do to us, put pressure on us and force the ball out. When they do that we’ve got to be able to make them pay, and we didn't."

See? A reasoned response after a defeat is not so tough.

Owens didn't hesitate to send out tweets that ridiculed NBC Sports analyst and former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison -- but not Dungy -- for what they said on Sunday night's pregame show. Owens has been taunting Harrison, who was suspended four games in 2007 for violating the league's performance-enhancing substances policy.

The brassy New York Jets benched receiver David Clowney on Sunday for a tweet that reflected poorly on the team. Owens, meanwhile, is tweeting like a trash-talking canary.

Owens also didn't have any trouble giving "Two Live Stews" a reasonable response Monday.

"I know I can play this game at a high level," Owens told the Stews. "We've just got to find some ways to get myself and Lee more involved in the offense. Our run game is right where it needs to be. We just got to complement our run game with the pass game."

That and whatever Owens' responses would have been to follow-up questions about how he would go about getting the passing game in gear would have sufficed. The postgame news conferences for Jauron and Edwards weren't contentious.

Instead, Owens created a scene so he could say -- once again -- the media is intent on carving him up.

There are a few members of the Buffalo media who wield knives. Most of them carry sporks. This isn't a media war zone.

But Owens is making them out to be just like the ones who chased him out of San Francisco ... and Philadelphia ... and Dallas.

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