Special Season Puts T.O. Atop No. 81 Rankings

John McMullen

The shooting star of Eagles history is the top No. 81 in the franchise's lore, Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens.

T.O. was a true superstar for one season before burning out in a soap opera of ego, envy, and anger.

It was so fun while it lasted, however, fans still talk about the 2004 season and just how dominant Owens was while nearly carrying the Eagles on his back despite a broken fibula in Super Bowl XXXIX.

From now until the Eagles begin the season at Washington on Sept. 13, SI.com EagleMaven will do a jersey countdown, listing the current Eagles player to wear the corresponding number to the days left before the season opener. As a bonus, we will list the top three players in team history to have that number.

Here’s what we came up with for No. 81 with Owens taking the top spot:

Current number 81:

Josh Perkins. Perkins is currently the No. 3 tight end behind stars Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and a player trying to hold off the versatile Alex Ellis as well as a premium undrafted free agent in Noah Togiai out of Oregon State. A flex player who was once a former receiver in college at the University of Washington, Perkins is a gifted athlete and more of a modern TE in that he’s more receiver than blocker.

Top 3 tory to wear number 81:

3. Jason Avant. A fourth-round pick out of Michigan in 2006 Avant spent the next seven seasons in Philadelphia developing into a tough-minded slot receiver with some of the best hands since Hall of Famer Cris Carter started his career here.

Avant wasn't an explosive player but he was a dependable one, playing 116 games with the Eagles and snaring 297 receptions for 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.

2. Jordan Matthews. Matthews was never as good as many Eagles fans believed he was early in his career when the Vanderbilt product was a high-volume, effective wideout best utilized from the slot who occasionally struggled with drops.

The comp from one scout was a scorer on a bad NBA team in that someone had to get the traffic.

A second-round pick in 2014 Matthews had 229 receptions for 2,706 yards and 19 touchdowns while playing in 46 out of a possible 48 games and starting 35 of those during his first of three stints with the organization.

Before his fourth season, Matthews was wrangling for a big-money extension that reflected his production and the organization thought he was limited due to speed deficiencies, along with some questions over his long-term health due to a balky knee.

Matthews was eventually traded - along with a third-round pick - to Buffalo for cornerback Ronald Darby in training camp before the 2017 season and while Darby didn’t work out as hoped for the Eagles, the organization was correct in their assessment of Matthews, who has had only 45 receptions since, 20 of those in the second of those three stints with the Eagles

1. Terrell Owens. When an organization can lean on Tommy McDonald, Harold Carmichael and Mike Quick, receivers who give you one season don't belong in G.O.A.T. conversations.

By no means is Owens the best receiver in Eagles history when you factor in longevity but he is easily the most talented and no one played the position at a higher level for the franchise than Owens did in 2004 when he hauled in 77 receptions for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns despite missing the final two regular-season games and two playoff contests with a fractured fibula suffered on a Roy Williams horse-collar tackle.

That injury required surgery and a screw placed in Owens’ leg. Despite that, he returned for the Eagles’ Super Bowl XXXIX loss to New England in which Owens was arguably the best player on the field with nine receptions for 122 yards.

It all went south from there as Owens’ legendary ego took over during a contract impasse which exploded into a host of petulant behaviors including a feud with quarterback Donovan McNabb, who Owens believed did not have his back in the contract struggle. The relationship between the two is still fractured to this day.

Owens played in only seven games in 2005 with tweaks along the way like the Michael Irvin throwback jersey on the team plane, fisticuffs with then-team ambassador Hugh Douglas and passive-aggressive shots at McNabb, the on-field leader.

According to Owens' agent Drew Rosenhaus, then-coach Andy Reid demanded that Owens apologize to McNabb and Rosenhaus did the heavy lifting before Owens edited the mea culpa to specifically not address McNabb. Two days later Reid announced that Owens would be deactivated for the remainder of the season.

Next came the infamous sit-up press conference in South Jersey and the NFLPA grievance against the Eagles claiming violation of the collective bargaining agreement. An arbitrator ruled in favor of the team and by March of the next year, Owens was gone and ultimately onto Dallas, the definition of a shooting star with the organization.

Runner-up:

Kenny Jackson. A North Jersey native who went to Penn State, Jackson didn't quite live up to expectations as the fourth overall pick in 1984 but he was a starter for parts of four seasons (1984-1987) and finished with 122 receptions for 2,139 yards. That said, topping out with 40 receptions as a top-five pick isn’t what was expected.

Others: 

Dick Humbert, Robert Priestly, Ray Reutt, Walt Nowak, John Yovicsin, Don McDonald, John O’Quinn, Willie Irvin, Bibbles Bawel, Eddie Bell, Ron Goodwin, Jim Whalen, Larry Estes, Stan Davis, Oren Middlebrook, Scott Fitzkee, Ron Smith, Otis Grant, Shawn Beals, Henry “Gizmo” Williams, Mike Bellamy, Roy Green, Paul Richardson, Rob Carpenter, Mark Seay, Jeff Graham, Charles Johnson, Tony Stewart, Billy McMullen, and Kamar Aiken.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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