HOUSTON – Sunday night in Houston, the New England Patriots proved again that even the unimaginable is possible when teammates and coaches unite as one under a selfless system that has been operating in one NFL city for 17 seasons.
Saturday night in Houston, Terrell Owens epitomized again what can happen when teammates, coaches and peers split against a player due to the kind of the selfish undercurrent that shadowed a Hall of Fame-worthy career through five NFL cities over 16 seasons.
The “Patriot Way” won its fifth Super Bowl on Sunday. The T.O. Conundrum lost its second Pro Football Hall of Fame voting process on Saturday.
The Patriots pointed fingers while trying to identify yet another unsung hero in the record comeback from down 28-3 to beating Atlanta 34-28 in overtime. Owens also pointed a finger, but it was to blame Hall of Fame selectors, including me, via Twitter.
The Patriots were all smiles talking about things like Julian Edelman’s ridiculous catch off the leg of a defender, millimeters from the turf. Or Dont’a Hightower’s key strip sack. Or running back James White setting a Super Bowl record with 14 catches and tying another mark with three touchdowns.
And, of course, there was a lot of discussion about Tom Brady and whether his record-breaking fifth Super Bowl victory makes him the greatest of all time. After Brady’s first career pick-six contributed to New England falling behind 28-3 midway through the fourth quarter, the record four-time Super Bowl MVP put up 31 points while completing 26 of 34 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers.
“He was the same as he always is — cool, calm and collected,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “He’s the leader, the general, the best ever, and that’s the end of that story.”
Actually, the story has more chapters to come. Brady turns 40 in August but is training his mind, body and soul to last at least another five years.
As for Owens, who knows? Brady might beat him into the Hall of Fame, for all we know.
The way the selection process works for the modern-era candidates is that we discuss all of them first and then do a cut from 15 to 10. Then we cut from 10 to five. Then we vote yes or no on those five. From there, it takes 80 percent of the 48 selectors to make the Hall of Fame.
I had Owens in my top 10 and was prepared to take him to the next step because of his production, particularly the 153 touchdowns that rank No. 3 all-time. But Owens didn’t even get enough votes to make it to the final 10.
There is a confidentiality rule in the voting process, so I can’t give details of the meeting. But I don’t believe it’s accurate to say the writers are punishing Owens because they don’t like him. I will say everyone in the room gathers a lot of information and talks to many people much closer to a finalist than they are to get a full sense of that player’s impact on his team and the game.
Like I said, I had Owens in my top 10. But I can accept the struggle with him.
Multiple teams that still needed his talent no longer wanted him. He had an ugly breakup in San Francisco. It was even uglier in Philadelphia, where he caught 20 touchdown passes in 21 games and played brilliantly on a broken leg in the Super Bowl before eventually being suspended and released by coach Andy Reid.
The Eagles were 6-10 in his last year. They were 10-6 the year after he left.
Nothing changed in Dallas. Good player, bad teammate, and a kick to the curb. After that, it was one-year contracts in Buffalo and Cincinnati. Owens probably could have played longer, but when he held a workout in the fall of 2011, nobody showed up.
Perhaps Owens would have changed had he played under Bill Belichick. When Patriots left tackle Nate Solder was asked what Belichick told the team when it was down 21-3 at halftime, he just laughed and said, “He cast a wizard spell over us that changed everything.”
He was joking. I think.
Then there was 31-year-old defensive end Chris Long, the No. 2 overall pick by the Rams in the 2008 draft. He spent eight seasons in St. Louis without making the playoffs before joining the Patriots this season.
“I didn’t sign to get paid, I didn’t really sign to resurrect my career,” Long said. “I just wanted to win.”