When the Cincinnati Bengals signed Terrell Owens last summer and paired him with Chad Ochocinco, we guessed every day would be the Fourth of July. Bang-zoom, Alice! When Batman and Robin weren't lighting up the scoreboard, they'd be microwaving minicams and tape recorders all over town. Instead, all we get is Owens taking the press room podium after every game and before meetings every Wednesday afternoon. Being polite, candid and gracious.
What a disaster.
The only yapping T.O. has done in Cincinnati has been about a guy who's playing in D.C. We wanted Me Rants and chronic rips of Bengals' management. Instead, Owens took a jab at Donovan McNabb. On Twitter, no less.
Meantime, Planet Ocho's orbit has been limited to the Twitterati and a really awful TV show. The pairing of football's two biggest characters has been a poetry reading. If you can't be a great train wreck, at least be an interesting one.
After Cincinnati's sixth consecutive loss Sunday, we even tried to bait T.O. with nasty references to his questionable running of pass routes. Late in the close loss at Indy, Owens cut short a pattern across the middle of the field, resulting in an interception that all but clinched the Colts' win. This would've been very good for media heathen, if the man hadn't taken the blame before we could assign it.
"My fault,'' Owens declared.
"When I came out of my break, I felt there was a linebacker there. I didn't come out of the break at full speed,'' he said. "I've been hearing I cost the game. I'll take that. I don't like the fact I put Carson [Palmer] and the team in that situation.''
How do we rip a guy who rips himself? Owens did confess he'd rather have his QB picked off than have his own head knocked off by a whack from an interested linebacker. At least he was honest about it.
T.O.'s playing for one last, fat contract. Even at 36, he just might get it. Owens is a freakish physical specimen, seemingly no worse for wear than he was a decade ago. He's third in the league in receptions. After nine games, he has four more than he had in 16 games for Buffalo last year. Nothing like a one-year deal to get a man's mind right.
There are those within the Bengals locker room who will suggest that Sunday wasn't the first time Owens offered less than max-effort on a play that resulted in an interception. One club insider said Wednesday that a perusal of game film revealed that of Carson Palmer's 11 picks this year, only two were entirely on the QB. The other nine were the property of his receivers, or simply the result of a stout defensive play.
It was a point made extensively on the Sunday telecast, by Dan Dierdorf, who suggested more than once that Owens had dogged several plays. To which Owens responded, "People that say I lack effort can go pound sand. They don't know me. I take offense to it."
OK, but there has always been that contradiction on his résumé. Owens could be the biggest "yeah, but ... '' Hall of Famer, the ultimate asterisk guy. Terrell Owens has had a Hall of Fame career; T.O. won't be remembered for that. A player who relishes being a lightning rod has to be willing to take the strikes. I asked him Wednesday what he thought about being remembered more for his act than his game.
"I don't care. I don't,'' Owens said. "When I was in high school or at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I never thought I'd be here. I'm living someone else's dream, I'm making fans happy by the way I perform on the field.''
He hasn't made fans in Cincinnati unhappy this fall. He's one of the few.
"He's not a guy that's going to take a play off,'' said Palmer. The QB praised Owens' practice habits, too, and challenged any notion that Owens has dogged the occasional route. Of course, the next time Palmer calls out a teammate will be the first.
In truth, Palmer needs two footballs, a couch and a whip and a chair. You can't play quarterback in the NFL and be Dr. Phil, a lesson Palmer has learned the hard way in the Bengals' pratfalling fall of 2010.
We knew all along that having T.O. and Planet Ocho in the same stripes would be like juggling two cans of gasoline with a lit match between your teeth. It was either going to be a great trick or a perfect explosion.
"It's been interesting'' is how Palmer describes it. He recalled sitting in a room during training camp, watching with the team's other QBs a feature on the NFL Network about the biggest "characters'' in the game. "John Riggins, Refrigerator Perry, Jim McMahon,'' Palmer says.
And Owens and Ochocinco.
"Chad was number five and TO was number two. All the quarterbacks looked at each other and said, 'We have two of the top 10, on one team.' That's when it hit me.''
The care and feeding of one of these guys is a shrink's life's work. Imagine both of them. "They're much more similar than different,'' Palmer says. In fact, they're twin sons of different mothers. Each grew up without a father around, each was raised by a grandmother, with little help from a mother who was either absent or not deeply involved. Ochocinco's mother left him with his grandmother when he was 5. Ocho and T.O. craved attention then, and now.
Sideline psyche-soothing can be tiring. Carson Palmer has taken to having his little brother, Bengals backup QB Jordan Palmer, do some of the heavy propping up when the defense is on the field. "The most important thing is communication, not letting past frustrations build,'' Palmer said.
Palmer has been criticized locally for not being more vocal during games, when a receiver botches a route. Images of Tom Brady raising sideline hell at Pittsburgh Sunday night resonated with Bengals fans. But yelling at Batman and/or Robin would not make each want to catch more criminals. It would send Batman into pout mode and cause Robin to shrink.
As Jordan Palmer pointed out, "They're not Danny Woodhead,'' the second-year running back New England signed as a free agent in September.
"They are very big personalities, and that's not a negative,'' said Carson Palmer. "They've created those. That's part of what has made them so good, that consistent confidence. They're both saying things to get a reaction. They have no fear of what comes out of their mouths.''
True enough. But they haven't had much to talk about this fall. So they haven't talked. The hype has not been justified. The Bengals are 2-7 with a middling pass offense. Owens is having a very good year that hasn't meant much. Plus, he has been, you know, accommodating.
We all could use a big, cathartic meltdown. To now, Terrell Owens has been a perfect (yawn) gentleman. Who'd have guessed?