IRVING, Texas -- There's nothing that says a player must be beloved to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And there's nothing in the Hall of Fame bylaws that says a player must be unselfish.
All that's required to gain entrance into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is being among the greatest players ever at the position one plays.
The truth is, few played receiver better than Terrell Owens -- T.O., to the world -- in the history of this game. How well he was liked is irrelevant.
He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the odds of that happening are slim because T.O. turned off folks with his constant complaints about not getting the ball and the perception that he wasn't a good teammate.
The guys T.O. shared his strict diet with would disagree, as would the players with whom he worked after practice to help them achieve what he had already attained. No one ever complained about his practice habits or willingness to play through injury.
But just like how some voters felt compelled to teach Michael Irvin and Charles Haley lessons and make them wait before gaining entry into the Hall of Fame, some will attempt to do the same with T.O. They didn't approve of Irvin's off-field behavior and Haley was often incorrigible as a player in the years before he was diagnosed as bipolar and sought treatment.
The complaints about T.O.'s whining are legitimate, but it's silly to make players wait to gain football immortality because a certain faction of Hall of Fame voters don't like them. Trimming the Hall of Fame class from 15 is a tough cut every year. This year is no different, and when you're talking about the best of the best, it's supposed to be tough.
Owens ranks second all time with 15,934 receiving yards and third with 153 touchdowns. Five times he was named All-Pro, and he accomplished that feat with three different teams. He returned early from a broken leg after missing four games in 2004 to play in the Super Bowl with the Eagles, catching nine passes for 122 yards in a loss to the Patriots.
His teams finished above .500 nine times, and they won as many as 12 games six times. He wasn't the greatest route runner and he dropped too many passes, but at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he was a big, fast, physical receiver who defensive coordinators made the focal point of their game plans. Still, they couldn't keep him out of the end zone.
When it's all said and done, scoring touchdowns trumps all else because you can't win if you can't score. He led the league in touchdowns three different times and scored at least 10 in eight different seasons.
But the game isn't just about stats. A lot of dudes, if they play enough or play in the right system, can put up numbers. Those who watched T.O. play know he accumulated more than numbers -- he dominated games, despite what former St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz said about him recently.
"You can't print how I felt when T.O. leapfrogged those two," Martz told the St. Louis Dispatch when asked about Owens being a Hall of Fame finalist instead of Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt. "That's just plain out-and-out ridiculous."
During his three-year stretch in Dallas, when the Cowboys sandwiched a pair of 9-7 seasons around a 13-3 season in 2007, T.O. caught 235 passes for 3,587 and 38 touchdowns before he was perceived as too divisive to keep on the roster. Some members of the coaching staff and front office believed he was creating dissension between Tony Romo and Jason Witten and the rest of the receivers.
The truth lies somewhere between perception and reality, but the Cowboys released him and he spent his final two seasons with Buffalo and Cincinnati, scoring 14 touchdowns. T.O. had 983 yards receiving and nine touchdowns in his final season, but it wasn't good enough to persuade another team to take a chance on a player with a reputation for creating locker room turmoil.
He garnered a lot of attention for his touchdown celebrations -- like the pompom celebration against Green Bay or the night he pulled the sharpie out of his sock against Seattle -- and behavior off the field, but those shouldn't affect his standing for the Hall of Fame.
T.O. remains one of the NFL's unforgettable characters, and you can't write the game's history without him. The next chapter should begin Saturday, when the 2016 Hall of Fame class is announced.