On a brisk San Francisco Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1992, hyperactive young halfback Ricky Watters poked his head into a star-studded 49ers huddle and made a heated request.
"Man, I was open . You gotta get me the ball!" Watters raved to quarterback Steve Young. "You gotta turn the 'Watter' on!"
Young, in the midst of a second-quarter scoring drive, glared back at Watters. So did wideouts Jerry Rice and John Taylor and tight end Brent Jones, all former or future Pro Bowlers. Finally, Jones responded.
"Dude, get in line," he said, cracking up everyone in the huddle besides Watters. "Are you kidding me? That's Jerry Rice. He wants the ball. Then come me and JT. Give me a break."
By that point, even Watters was laughing.
That amusing memory from the Niners' glory years is useful when breaking down the pseudo controversy over Terrell Owens' comments following the Cowboys' 26-24 defeat to the Redskins last Sunday.
When asked during a news conference if he felt he'd gotten the ball enough, Owens, who was thrown to 18 times and had a pair of rushing attempts on end-arounds, answered, "I would say no. I'm a competitor, and I want the ball."
Redskins CB Rogers breaks up a pass intended for Owens in Week 4.
(US Presswire/Tim Heitman)
Owens has said some preposterous and divisive things over the course of his 13-year career. In San Francisco, he took it upon himself to speculate publicly about quarterback Jeff Garcia's sexual orientation. In Philadelphia, a couple of months after the team came within three points of winning a championship, he questioned quarterback Donovan McNabb's toughness, saying, "I wasn't the one who got tired in the Super Bowl."
On each of those occasions, he deserved to be ripped. This time? Give me a break.
To understand Owens, you have to consider the NFL culture in which he was raised. When he arrived in San Francisco as a third-round draft pick in 1996, he was a wide-eyed rookie who said little and soaked up everything around him.
Watters and Taylor were gone by then, but Young, Jones and Rice remained. Rice, especially, was the veteran on whom Owens tried to model his approach. And Rice, in addition to being unquestionably the greatest receiver (if not player) in history, was a total ball-hog with a penchant for moodiness.
Stunningly, Rice's bad moods often corresponded with the times in which he had fewer passes thrown his way.
At least Owens' latest comments came after a tough defeat. I saw Rice, on multiple occasions over a number of seasons, blast the 49ers' play-calling after games San Francisco won, sometimes by comfortable margins.
Whether the offensive coordinator was Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan or Marc Trestman, Rice felt free to rip away. It made for some decent, one-day copy in the era before Internet omnipotence, and it might have caused a bit of tension in the meeting room or on the practice field.
Mostly, however, players and coaches shrugged it off, because they knew that part of what made Rice the greatest was the psychotic competitive drive that fueled his sporadic outbursts.
Besides, it wasn't as if Rice was alone. He might've been the only one airing his frustrations publicly, but as Jones recalls, "Our thought was, 'Never run, unless it's fourth-and-inches.' And even then, we (receivers) still wanted the ball. If we didn't throw it every play, we weren't happy."
Owens, of course, has a way of magnifying his unhappiness to the point where teammates and coaches can become disgusted and alienated. I don't think that's what happened here. He caught seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, and he was frustrated that he couldn't do more. A combination of tight coverage from Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers and a lack of coordination with quarterback Tony Romo kept Owens from catching any of those other 11 balls thrown his way.
Asked if he felt he became more involved in the offense after halftime, Owens said, "Everybody recognized that I wasn't really getting the ball in the first half. I'm pretty sure everybody watching the game recognized it. People in the stands recognized it. I think my team recognized it. I didn't quit. I kept fighting and trying to keep running my routes and trying to get open."
Did the statement sound a tad narcissistic? Perhaps. Could he have blown off the question? Absolutely.
Was it a big deal? Please.
Yet plenty of people in my business saw it differently. One of them, former Cowboys great Emmitt Smith, said on Fox Sports Radio's "Out of Bounds" Wednesday, "When you make a statement about the offense needing to go through you, and you have had an opportunity to make plays for your team on that particular day in that particular game [to] the tune of 19 (actually 20) possible opportunities, and you make seven catches for only 71 yards, and you turn around and criticize somebody for not allowing you the opportunity to make more plays, then that's absolutely ridiculous."
Owens learned from Rice and others that wanting the ball wasn't such a bad thing.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
I think Emmitt might be forgetting that, during his playing days, Cowboys wideout Michael Irvin was every bit the ball hog that Rice was – or that T.O. is now. There's another infamous Watters story. When the young runner played in his first Pro Bowl following the '92 season, he made a similar demand for carries in the NFC huddle, screaming, "I'm the one the people are here to see."
That didn't go over well with the established stars in the huddle. The rest of them began demanding the ball as well, a theme that continued throughout the game. Rice and Irvin were particularly insistent. Later, the two wideouts waged an in-huddle argument over which one of them was the league's most selfish player.
This is not a criticism of either receiving great, by the way. Wideouts are the sport's divas, and most of the elite ones long for the ball like people in my business crave hotel points and free food.
That's true of so many great athletes in other sports, too. Think Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan didn't demand the ball, especially at the end of games? Think Kobe Bryant doesn't? Hell, after Jordan's first retirement, longtime Bulls No. 2 option Scottie Pippen got so upset at coach Phil Jackson for drawing up a last-possession shot in a playoff game for teammate Toni Kukoc that he refused to take the floor. (Kukoc nailed the game-winner anyway, proving that the basketball gods are shrewd and benevolent deities. But I digress … )
The reason Jerry Jones pays Owens the big bucks is because the Cowboys owner knows T.O. has so much faith in his own abilities that he wants the ball every single play. Trust me, the notion that Owens would chafe after not being able to carry his team to victory over a division rival is unremarkable to Jones, and to Romo.
On Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported that Owens had a "serious conversation" with Romo in the locker room after the game, one in which he vented his frustrations to the quarterback about specific throws and routes on which they were out of synch. The following day Owens denied that such a discussion had taken place, and Romo essentially backed him up, albeit a bit more vaguely.
Even if Owens did get in his quarterback's grill, I still don't think it's overly significant. For one thing, Romo is smart enough to know Owens' potential dissatisfaction in that context isn't personal, and he has the perfect temperament for taking such competitive considerations in stride.
I also know that Romo, like Troy Aikman and Steve Young and Joe Montana and so many other successful quarterbacks before him, would rather have a pain-in-the-butt diva who pines for the ball but makes plays and battles his heart out on Sundays than an amiable good soldier who gets shy when the game is on the line.
Because of this, don't be surprised if another needy, greedy receiver with outrageous skills gets his wish and ends up joining the Cowboys after this season. Earlier this week Bengals wideout Chad Ocho Cinco (or Johnson, or whomever he is while he and Reebok continue their financial stalemate), whose struggling team plays at Texas Stadium Sunday, reiterated his desire to relocate to Dallas, saying he had pined for a trade there over the offseason.
"I tried," Ocho Cinco told reporters who cover the Cowboys. "I talked to 81 (Owens) almost every day, man. I love 81. We talk all the time. That would've been a circus. Let me tell you, I don't mean to be funny. … I'm not trying to be rude … but if I was in Dallas, they would have to change all of our damn games to pay-per-view because you need to pay to see that (expletive). I'm serious. I'm so serious. They would have to put all the games on pay-per-view. Because you just can't watch a show like that for free."
Jones, I'm guessing, is all for it. I am too. I just have one request: Can the pay-per-view folks please put a camera and microphone in the huddle?
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Texans will finally get their first victory – and the Colts, in dropping to 1-3, will officially enter crisis mode. … The Steelers have shown a lot of heart and toughness over the season's first month, but they won't have enough to overcome David Garrard and the rejuvenated Jags on Sunday night. … Sensing their season slipping away, the Vikings will rise up and outscore the Saints on Monday night, with Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen playing starring roles.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
That spaceship in the middle of the Arizona desert, where I can get a glimpse of the undefeated Bills and watch Kurt Warner try to bounce back from that turnover-fest at Giants Stadium last Sunday. The last time I went to that stadium, I saw a hell of a game.
LIES, LIES, LIES
3. After watching Raiders owner Al Davis lay out his case for stiffing Lane Kiffin during Tuesday's priceless press conference, Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown staged a bidding war for the rights to resolve the dispute. When each TV arbiter claimed to have made the better offer, Judge Wapner was brought in to settle the argument.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Detroit Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars was money in his first week, riding his hometown Saints to victory over the 49ers. So will the Hall of Famer have the guts to follow it up by picking the franchise that plays in his adopted hometown? Uh, no. Sorry, Lions fans: Dumars is picking the Cowboys to beat the Bengals. His breakdown: "Dallas goes back to running the ball this week!"
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
After roaming the Chargers' sidelines at the Oakland Coliseum as San Diego rallied to beat the Raiders, my buddy Malibu was counting on a fantasy triumph as well. However, it wasn't until the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall had recorded his 5.8 points – just before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury – that Malibu could rejoice over Hand of Doom's 140.4-138.4 upset of Pure Hell. Huge games by Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and David Garrard (the latter playing on my recommendation) keyed the victory, which could have been more lopsided had Malibu followed my advice to acquire the Cardinals' Steve Breaston. Look for an even bigger game out of Breaston this Sunday with Anquan Boldin sidelined; Malibu, unfortunately, didn't claim him in time to help Hand of Doom (3-1) in its matchup with Locals Only (Philip Rivers, Michael Turner, LenDale White, Randy Moss, Greg Jennings, Jason Witten). To his credit, Malibu picked up Amani Toomer, who should thrive against the Seahawks' pass defense and get more balls thrown his way in Plaxico Burress' absence.
As for UCSB women's hoops coach Lindsay Gottlieb, even my sound advice (to pick up Bills halfback Fred Jackson, who contributed 10 points) wasn't enough to overcome Aaron Rodgers' shoulder-induced struggles as Gaucho Madness suffered a 15-point defeat to Dear Meat, with Steven Jackson, Edgerrin James and the Bills' defense making big contributions. Now 2-2, Gottlieb has issues heading into this weekend's matchup with USA (Eli Manning, Reggie Wayne, Joseph Addai, Antonio Gates). With Rodgers ailing she's hoping for some serious Monday night magic from the Vikings in New Orleans, as Gus Frerotte, Bernard Berrian and Ryan Longwell are among her starters. I advised her to play Ricky Williams over Jackson and to wait until the last minute on Bucs wideout Joey Galloway, who may not be healthy enough to play against the Broncos' Orange Slush defense.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
As horrible as it is that former Broncos running back Travis Henry has been arrested on cocaine distribution charges, it occurs to me that his serial habit of fathering children out of wedlock may have contributed to a possible sense of desperation. Last year, after reports surfaced that Henry had fathered nine children to nine different women, I gave him the nickname King Henry IX. I'm not laughing quite as hard now. In addition to the potential moral complications, Henry put himself in a financially untenable position by behaving so recklessly. Those are a lot of mouths to feed – mouths likely spread out over nine different households, each with unique needs – and I wonder if Henry, after losing his main source of income, buckled under the pressure and did something truly stupid. If so, nine young lives will be negatively impacted.
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Courtney Jones, a sensational freshman for North Carolina's second-ranked soccer team whose father, Brent, is quoted above. Given that I remember seeing Courtney at 49ers games wearing a onesie and matching cap, seeing her tear it up for the Tar Heels – she had a hat trick in last Sunday's 5-0 victory over Maryland, including a pair of goals in the first nine minutes, and scored the game-winner in Thursday night's 3-0 win at No. 9 Duke – is yet another reminder that time passes way too quickly. As a fellow soccer dad, I can't even fathom the pride Brent and his wife, Dana, feel when they watch No. 84 racing upfield for the sport's most storied collegiate program. (Their older daughter, Rachel, played goalie at Cal Poly). "Put it this way," Brent Jones said. "I was much more relaxed playing in the Super Bowl."
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
With statuesque studettes like seniors Kat Reilly and Morgan Beck on the floor, the Golden Bears' eighth-ranked volleyball team is a legitimate threat to build upon its first-ever Final Four appearance from '07. Cal (12-1, 2-0 in the Pac-10) takes a seven-match winning streak into tonight's Pac-10 clash against No. 9 Washington in Seattle and faces Washington State in Pullman the following night. For what it's worth, I hear a certain 2008 U.S. Olympian (hint: if he were an octopus, he'd have a gold medal for each arm) is a Cal volleyball fan whose presence enlivened a party night at Kip's a couple of weeks back. It's too bad this alum wasn't around to talk some trash.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
Chris Rock Larry King 2 livesteez
ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS
In what probably ranks as its biggest week since it defeated Liverpool last December, the Reading Football Club took a big step toward establishing itself as a legitimate promotion candidate by rolling to one-sided victories over Swansea City and Football League Championship-leading Wolverhampton Wanderers FC (a.k.a. Wolves). The Royals' 4-0 triumph over Swansea City at Madejski Stadium last Saturday featured goals from each of the Hunt Brothers (Noel and Stephen) and a pair from Kevin Doyle. Three days later Reading traveled to Molineux and gave Wolves its first defeat of the season by a 3-0 score. An own goal off a Stephen Hunt corner (with pressure from Doyle) in the fourth minute gave the Royals an early lead, and second half tallies by Andre Bikey (who headed home a Jimmy Kebe cross) and Kalifa Cisse (who slid into a Shane Long cross) put it away. Now third behind Wolves and Birmingham in the league table, the Royals return to Madejski to face Burnley on Saturday.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Why are you still talking about the Patriots from last year. Get over it. They lost! No perfect season. No NFL championship. 18-1. Same thing this year. Brady's out. They suck. Perfect season dream destroyed by Miami. Get over it! Talk about something else. Brady is not God. All teams that are ahead of the Patriots this year should run up the score on them. Since it was OK for them to do it last year, let's see how they like being on the other end."
I'm over it, bro, but something tells me you aren't. Deep breaths, happy thoughts.
"No question, just more of a comment. Your ranking systems for pro football sucks. You don't even post serious comments. There just a bunch of bull !@#$. I bet you don't even know the rules of the game. Your just some idiot that got a diploma at a JC collage and who's Dad got you this job writing as a sports columnist."
Actually, I have a diploma from the University of California. And even the art history majors I knew there didn't spend a whole lot of time doing collages.
"'Did Larry Johnson drink some bad Coors in college, or does he have something else against the state of Colorado?' There's good Coors? (Give me a Fat Tire … please! )"
Fort Collins, Colo.
Point taken. I'll consign that question to the Department of Redundancy, Dept.
"Looks like you were right about Brett Favre all along. He was only good because of the personnel he was surrounded by in Green Bay. He could never duplicate his numbers with a sorry squad like the New York Jets. Just a desperate publicity move by (Eric) Mangini and Co. The Packers are even better with Rodgers than they were with favre and the jets are just as bad. Way to call it, jackass."
It's early, and right now Favre and Rodgers have the same numbers: 2-2. At least, those are the only numbers that count. Be still, Grasshopper. All shall be revealed in time.
"Mike, A small favor please. Keep count of all the dingle-berries who write in and 'remind' you that there isn't a 55-yard-line in football. You must get a kick out of setting up these no-loads like that. I know I do! When I'm not cheering for the Bills, my CFL team is the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Yes, I'm a glutton for punishment!"
As you suspected, so am I …
"Your industry connections are admirable. Your behind-the-scenes articles offer a rarely seen and interesting insight. Your wit is sharp and your knowledge of pop-culture seems vast. However, I worry about your credibility when you claim that you don't know if you would punt or pass on third and one from the 55 yard line. To quote Blazing Saddles, 'God darnit, Mr. Silver, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.' The trouble is … do you really know anything about the actual game? Here in the gentle hills of North Carolina, when it's third and one, we say, 'Give it to Hoover!' or after a few beers, just simply, 'Hoov!' "
Cool, amigo. When you sober up, do a little reading about the actual game north of the border (to which I alluded in the column) and you shall be enlightened. It's twoooooo, it's twoooooooo!
"Hey Mike! I'm an huge fan of your (gasp!) work, and read your columns faithfully. It's logical then that my heart skipped a beat when I thought I found a mistake I could humbly point out. Am I missing something here, or is the right answer fairly obvious when you have to choose between a pass and a punt on a third down? Even if it's a 'third-and-1 from the 55- yard-line,' I can't imagine anybody just going ahead and punting … If I'm actually getting what you're (gasp! again!!) writing, as opposed to say, missing some sort of joke, I'll probably get to see this published (yay!). If I'm not, however, it can all easily be blamed on being Costa Rican and I'll be spared any embarrassment. (Or I'll be called anything from a 'moran' to an 'imbesile' by my fellow readers) Thanks for the funny columns, keep up the good work!"
San Jose, Costa Rica
De nada. You definitely aren't a moron or an imbecile. Now, how do I say "dingleberry" in Spanish?
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
Tuesday's surreal press conference at the Raiders' training facility gave us a rare glimpse into the tortured psyche of Al Davis. What we didn't see was the 79-year-old owner sitting alone in a darkened room, fantasizing about better days and warbling this make-believe send up of "Longview" by Green Day, his fellow East Bay residents:
Sit around and watch the tube, NFL Network
Watch "Sea of Hands" game for an hour or two
Twiddle my thumbs just for awhile
Seeing John Madden makes me smile
In a time warp with long sideburns
And I'm goin' crazy
Bite my lip and close my eyes
Take me away to paradise
I've had it with the coach who lies
And I won't pay (expletive)
Peel me off this Velcro seat and get me moving
I sure as hell can't do it by myself
I'm feeling like an ol' drill sarge
Up off the mat and back in charge
Barged through the door to meet the press
And reclaimed my team
Bite my lip and close my eyes
Take me away to paradise
I got rid of the coach who lies
And I won't pay (expletive)
Got back my motivation
Laid out my explanation
Now comes adjudication
Good times for Raider Nation
Sit around and watch the phone, Belichick's calling
Called him a cheater and a tamperer
My mother lived to 103
You fools ain't seen the last of me
Think Raider Nation's lost its chief?
You're (expletive) crazy
Bite my lip and close my eyes
Take me away to paradise
Cut the punk coach right down to size
The Cable Guy has to suffice
See the letter? I rest my case
Ain't giving a dime to What's His Face
Some say "Just win, baby" passed me by
But it's just a myth