• Terrell Owens addresses the crowd gathered at his National Football League Hall of Fame induction speech inside the McKenzie Arena on Saturday afternoon. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY
    Terrell Owens addresses the crowd gathered at his National Football League Hall of Fame induction speech inside the McKenzie Arena on Saturday afternoon. Photo by KEVIN HENSLEY

MATTHEW OSBORNE: Owens reminds us who he really is

    Chattanooga, Tenn. – Leave it to Mr. Belding to put everything in proper perspective about enigmatic wide receiver extraordinaire Terrell Owens.
    Dennis Haskins, a fellow Tennessee-Chattanooga alum who played the principal on the long-running television show Saved By The Bell, passed a message to Owens’ former basketball coach, Mack McCarthy, before the wide receiver’s Hall of Fame induction speech at the school Saturday.
    “Dennis told me, ‘There’s T.O. the superstar, and then there’s my friend Terrell,’ ” McCarthy recalled.
    Football fans know only the superstar version of Owens, who made a stand by holding his induction at his alma mater instead of in Canton, Ohio, with the other inductees. Many of those same fans assumed that was just another arrogant Terrell Owens moment, but those closest to him painted a different picture.
    “He was trying to win,” Mocs broadcaster Jim Reynolds said. “No one ever said he was out of shape or unprepared. As for the rest of it, he was a marketer and promoter, and his favorite product was Terrell Owens.”
    Reynolds added that seven-hour bus rides to play VMI do a lot to make one humble, a quality he said Owens has despite a reputation to the contrary. Indeed, Owens’ speech theme was “This is For You,” perhaps the opposite of most would have expected.
    His event was one giant Southern family reunion, with friends and well-wishers giving him multiple standing ovations. His speech was stirring and emotional, and he honored his mother, Marilyn Heard, who brought his gold jacket to the stage.
    When Owens missed the Hall of Fame the last two years – which spurred the desire to create his own event to begin with – his mom texted him with encouraging words.
    “You ain’t got to worry about nothing. You’re always a Hall of Famer to me,” she wrote.
    Owens said his mom was the real Hall of Famer. If you weren’t tearing up by then, you had no soul.
    T.O. was the man who pulled out a Sharpie and signed a football in the middle of the game. T.O. was the guy who stood on the Dallas star and disrespected the Cowboys, a team he would later join. T.O. was the guy who spoke his mind no matter who it offended.
    T.O., who also used it as a prop after scoring touchdowns, brought a bucket of popcorn to his press conference, referencing his legendary catchphrase, “Getcha popcorn ready!”
    However, Terrell also was the guy who lived his life and put in the work to become an all-time football great. It was Terrell’s friends who made sure his jacket made it to Chattanooga on time, and it was Terrell who took local kids to Dick’s Sporting Goods for a shopping spree just a day earlier.
    T.O. was described by many as a bad teammate and locker room cancer, but he made it clear that Terrell was a great guy who was loved by his fellow players.
    Terrell wanted everyone to know that while he loved himself, he gave the credit for his success to others. While he barely mentioned any teammates by name – particularly quarterbacks, of whom he only mentioned Steve Young – he acknowledged mistakes and admitted his character had been questioned.
    But he owned it all, for better or worse.
    “I like the man I’ve become,” he said near the end of his speech. “I’m a man of conviction, a man of faith, a man of integrity and courage. I was courageous enough to choose Chattanooga over Canton.”
    T.O. is hoping for changes in the way Hall of Famers are picked in the future, citing his two-year snub despite being second all time in receiving yards and third in touchdowns. While he did not lay out any specific plans for that, he was open to dialogue about it if Hall of Fame officials would be as well.
    As for Terrell Owens, this is not the end. It’s just the beginning.
    “My legacy starts today,” he said.
    Matthew Osborne is editor of the Cherokee Scout. You can reach him by phone, 837-5122; fax, 837-5832; email, editor@cherokeescout.com; or on Twitter @cniozzy.