SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Steve Young has long said the character known as “T.O.” is not the same kid he met when the San Francisco 49ers drafted Terrell Owens in the third round out of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1996.
T.O. was the guy who pulled a Sharpie from his sock after a touchdown catch to sign a football.
Owens was the shy rookie who called Young “sir” upon meeting him.
T.O. nearly started a riot by celebrating a touchdown on the Dallas Cowboys' midfield star.
Owens was a grandmama’s boy.
T.O. grabbed a fan’s popcorn and poured it through his facemask to celebrate another score.
Owens wept after authoring The Catch II, a playoff-game-winning grab from Young against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park.
T.O. took and shook a cheerleader’s pompoms to mark a score.
Owens -- whose work ethic challenged that of Jerry Rice, according to Young -- missed out on becoming a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer on Saturday.
"Unfortunately I did not make it," Owens tweet Saturday. "CONGRATS to the 2016 HOF CLASS. Thanks to ALL MY FANS for ur unwavering love & support."
Insecure and ultra-confident. A polarizing figure who played in the Super Bowl on a broken leg for the Philadelphia Eagles and spit some of the more quotable expressions in league history for the benefit of TV cameras.
“I love me some me,” he said.
“Who can make a play? I can,” he bellowed.
“They hate to love me,” Owens opined, and really, this might be the truest thing he ever said as a player, and it might be the same to the 46 Hall selectors sequestered in a Bay Area room to pick this year’s class.
And still, even as his stats -- his 15,934 career receiving yards are second in NFL history and his 1,078 career catches rank sixth -- speak volumes, he is no sure bet to get into Canton this weekend. Not with the way the Hall’s selectors operate with a bottleneck and Marvin Harrison having waited longer.
“If you look at my character off the football field, it’s unblemished,” he told ESPN NFL Nation reporter Paul Kuharsky on his radio show this week. “You look at some of the Hall of Fame players that have gotten in … again, there’s been some major issues, from DUIs to alcohol addiction. You talk about drugs, cocaine. Again, if you look at some of those things and you factor in, it should be a no-brainer.
“In terms of Marvin Harrison, great receiver. Again, his numbers are there. I think he won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. But again, here’s a guy … he had a gun incident. This is a guy that really had a gun charge where somebody got killed. So, again, if you factor in all these things, what is the Hall of Fame? What is the criteria, what is the basis, really, for people getting in?
“I think if it’s all about a person being a great human being, again, we all make mistakes.”
Owens alienated teammates and feuded with his quarterbacks, from Jeff Garcia to Donovan McNabb, but famously sobbed when defending Tony Romo. And while Hall selectors are instructed to take into account only candidates’ on-field contributions, T.O. being a distraction might harm his candidacy.
“I had some issues, some arguments with some teammates, some disagreements,” he said. “So if that’s a reason to not put me in, I think you have to question the people in the process.”
Which leads to this question: Should Owens get elected to the Hall of Fame in the future, who shows up for the induction ceremony -- T.O., or Owens?