NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s around 10:45 a.m. on a Thursday in a Nashville bowling alley, and Terrell Owens finds himself listening to the question he has been asked a dozen times and will surely be asked a dozen more before he leaves this earth:
Are you sure you won’t regret your decision one day to skip your Hall of Fame induction ceremony?
To his critics, Owens’ unprecedented decision to skip the official ceremony last August — which caused more words to be written and said about him than any of the seven other inductees in the Class of 2018 — was emblematic of the attention-seeking behavior that contributed to Owens being passed over by the 48-man selection committee in 2016 and 2017, despite his undeniable on-field resume.
To others, particularly those who know him best, it was the right choice, particularly after they witnessed the love that was heaped upon him at the Hall of Fame celebration he held at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, on the same day as the ceremony in Canton.
That event was so much fun that even now, Owens insists the pangs of regret for missing out on the conventional celebration in Canton have not taken root. Yet, the question of whether he will regret it five, 10 or 20 years down the line is complicated enough that before Owens answers it, he concedes that he understands why some of his fans might worry about him.
“I don’t regret it, [but] I hear what you’re saying,” Owens told Yahoo Sports before he bowled with fans at a Verizon company event. “Everybody’s like, ‘Oh well, he’s missing one of the greatest moments of his career.’ But the thing is ... how can you miss something that you’ve never experienced?”
Nothing ever comes easy for Owens, and during his 15-year career in the NFL, he was one of the league’s most polarizing players, thanks in part to his over-the-top celebrations that angered writers and older fans but endeared him to younger ones.
Yet, it’s Owens’ reputation for being a divisive locker-room presence — he played for five teams in 15 years — that bothers Owens the most since he believes it played a large role in his Hall call being two years later than it should have been.
“I’ve been criticized and prevented from basically getting what I rightfully earned because I’m outspoken, when you have guys [in the Hall of Fame] that have criminal activity behind their name,” Owens told Yahoo Sports.
There were some in his corner who urged him to attend anyway. “Oh, I was completely against it,” said trusted friend and marketing manager Doug Sanders. “Whole-heartedly.”
Sanders convinced Owens to at least go on a tour of the Hall with the other inductees in March 2018, roughly a month after they were all voted in.
“I said, ‘Terrell, I understand what happened, I understand the frustration,’” Sanders recalled. “‘But the reality is, this isn’t so much for you as it is for your loved ones. Neither one of your kids got to see you play; I think you should be up there and be celebrated with your other brothers going in.’ That was my first reaction. I thought deeper than just him; I thought more about his family and his kids.”
But once Owens toured the Hall and he heard David Baker, the president and chief executive of the Hall, speak about what the institution was about, Owens couldn’t shake the feeling he’d been judged by an unfair standard, even though many great receivers — including Tim Brown, Marvin Harrison and Cris Carter — have been forced to wait longer for a Hall call than he did.
“We sat in that room for about 45 minutes to an hour, and he basically gave us the history of what the Hall of Fame is about, the very fibers of what the NFL and Canton was about,” Owens said. “And I left there, knowing that I had already been snubbed twice, and it didn’t align [with what I heard from him].
“So as it relates to the regret … I’ll never regret what I did.”
Any worries Sanders had about Owens regretting his decision melted away once the event in Chattanooga started. That’s when Sanders realized Owens, who was surrounded by friends and family in the community he spent his college years in, was getting the type of love he needed, the type of love most players soak up while in Canton.
“I was with his family and friends, and literally the emotion that came with it, it was incredible,” Sanders said. “And at that point, my mind had changed.”
Especially after what Owens’ mother, Marilyn, told Owens afterward.
"She said that was the best time she ever had in her life,” Owens said with a chuckle, as tears began to well in his eyes. “It almost brings me to tears.”
So yes, as you can imagine, with memories like that, Owens remains content with his decision to skip the ceremony in Canton. He has a fail safe in place if those feelings ever pop up, as he has a standing invitation to visit the Hall whenever he pleases.
“David Baker told me I’m always welcome, I can come back,” Owens told Yahoo Sports with a grin.
Owens actually does plan on taking Baker up on that offer one day.
“I’ve got kids, and now they understand who their dad is,” Owens said. “My son, he’s 19 and he’ll be playing football at FAU. My daughter is 14. They’ll want to see [it] … so I’m sure at some point, we’ll all want to go together.”
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