Oh, T.O., what have you gone and gotten yourself into now?
I guess we should have seen it coming, the inevitable confluence of Desperate Housewives and Terrell Owens, the two hottest things going on television these days. But leave it to ABC's Monday Night Football to tie it up into one nice, little tongue-wagging image for us to fixate on all week. Let's all just be thankful it wasn't John Madden in that towel.
As they say in show biz, there's no such thing as bad publicity -- an axiom that Owens' controversial career has proven correct time and time again. While he continues his record-breaking career year on the field for his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, the veteran receiver has managed to draw even more coverage for what he does when he's not between the hashmarks.
But what a body of work Owens has compiled in recent years. Trying to come up with the top five T.O. stunts of all time, we could double that number and still not touch on every one of his greatest hits. The pom-poms touchdown celebration? Please. The Steve Mariucci bashing, or the Donovan McNabb sideline "encouragement'' session? Don't even think about bringing that weak stuff in here.
Even the weeks-long melodrama surrounding his celebrated three-team trade this offseason, or the pure, unadulterated fun of seeing him bust the Ray Lewis dance on us -- my personal favorite in the Owens catalog -- doesn't make the cut. This is the best of the best we're talking about. The good stuff. Vintage T.O. incidents, each one as distinctive and unique as the man himself:
1. Sharpie-gate -- If you didn't at least suppress a smile when Owens whipped that Sharpie out of his sock and signed the football for his business agent after a touchdown on Monday Night Football in Seattle in October 2002, well, then you need to stop taking things quite so seriously. It wasn't a knife, folks. It was a pen. With washable ink.
And the only reason it seemed so utterly over the top is because nobody had ever thought of it before. But I imagine the Wright Brothers heard the same thing when they were working on their first airplane. If Owens' impromptu autograph session really bothered you, just chalk it up as a sign of the times.
2. The Stomping of the Star -- Remember how outrageous it all seemed back then, in September 2000? In retrospect, Owens racing to midfield of Texas Stadium to twice celebrate touchdowns on the famed Cowboys' star logo -- arms outstretched, head tilted skyward, toward the hole in the roof and the heavens -- seems almost quaint by his current standards of self-promotion.
Owens, of course, was tackled by vigilante Cowboys safety George Teague after his second sprint to midfield, setting off a near brawl. But when the definitive history of Owens' combustible career is written, the stand-on-the-star routine will be seen as that first great burst of artistic vision, kind of like when Andy Warhol happened upon his first Campbell's soup can.
3. The Playboy Interview -- Giving Eagles head coach Andy Reid and the entire organization a taste of the near weekly brush fires to come, Owens granted Playboy an interview this offseason, and surprise, surprise, the magazine seemed to ask questions relating to a sexual nature. One of which led Owens into at least intimating that quarterback Jeff Garcia, his former 49ers teammate, was gay.
"Like my boy tells me,'' Owens said, "if it looks like a rat, and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.'' The interview was published in August, and created a week's worth of stories revolving around the long-since soured Owens-Garcia working relationship. Garcia even felt the need to respond to Owens' words, insisting that his former receiver had even met some of his girlfriends.
Alas, there was a rat in this whole incident. But in this case, it was wearing No. 81 for the Eagles. Owens' mouth has rarely served him as poorly as it did in this case.
4. Desperate Cross-Promotion -- Not to go all Michael Powell on you, but I can't believe in this post-Janet Jackson era that some one fell asleep at the wheel and let ABC pull off the completely gratuitous and sleazy lead-in segment that it aired at the start of Monday Night Football this week. Is there even such a thing as a 90-second tape delay on network television?
Owens didn't distinguish himself by taking part in the bit, in which Desperate Housewives co-star Nicolette Sheridan drops her towel to seduce him into not taking the field against the Cowboys, but the most angst should be saved for ABC executives and the ultra-hypocritical NFL.
Let me get this straight: Sex on the sidelines with the buxom cheerleaders and in the beer ads (think the Coors Twins) is one thing when it comes to promoting the NFL's product. But actually letting the selling of sex creep outside its traditional boundaries? Well, as Captain Renault said in Casablanca, "I'm shocked, shocked to find there's gambling going on in here.''
5. The Greg Knapp sideline scream-fest -- I was there that September day last season in Minnesota, when Owens went off -- and I do mean off -- on his 49ers offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp. One of the nicer guys in the game, Knapp endured a ridiculous verbal thrashing from Owens on the San Francisco sideline in the Metrodome, all because things weren't going so swell for Owens in his mano a mano duel with Pro Bowl Vikings receiver Randy Moss.
The 49ers lost that Week 4 game, 35-7, and Owens' numbers (5 receptions for 55 yards) looked puny compared to Moss's eight-catch, 172-yard, three-touchdown showing. Owens capped his stellar performance by ripping into Garcia during the course of a 14-minute post-game rant, in which he called for the elevation of backup Tim Rattay to the starting lineup. It was T.O. at his petulant best. Or worst.