As I woke up this morning and glanced at my phone, the alert read “Terrell Owens named honorary game captain for San Francisco 49ers this Sunday.” I immediately had flashbacks to watching “The Catch II,” jumping up and down with joy. Than I remembered the Dark Ages, a 39-73 stretch between the Owens and Jim Harbaugh era. T.O’s decisions and antics during the 2001-2003 season, not only affected the team, but the entire franchise. Sure, it was a long time ago. And sure, he scored arguably the greatest touchdown in 49ers’ history. But that doesn’t erase the fact he was the cancer that destroyed our franchise.
With the retirement of Steve Young at the end of the 1999 season, the torch was passed to Jeff Garcia. Even though finishing 6-10 and missing the playoffs for the second year, Garcia had one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in NFL history. He threw for 4, 278 yards and 31 touchdowns, with only ten interceptions. In 2001, the 49ers established themselves as a playoff caliber team, finishing 12-4 and featuring the ninth best defense in the league. Terrell Owens became Garcia’s number one target in their run and gun offense but eventually fell to the Packers in the NFC Wild Card game. The following season in 2002, the 49ers finished 10-6, won the west, and had an incredible 39-38 come from behind win against the New York Giants in the NFC Wild Card game. To many fans, like myself, the quest for six was so close you could foresee it. Jeff Garcia was already being compared to the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young. But with tension in the locker room and the front office, the team and franchise imploded.
Rumors were circulating that Terrell Owens and head coach Steve Maruichi had a dysfunctional relationship. Arguments and temper tantrums were common to see on the sideline in the 2002 season. Not only did Maruichi have an issue with T.O, but also with the newly appointed front office. After a strained relationship with the organization, Maruichi was fired at the conclusion of the 2002 season. The following year, Dennis Erickson was named head coach, which marked the beginning of the end. In the 2003 season, Jeff Garcia became displeased with the praise Terrell Owens was giving Tim Rattay, that was causing a locker room disturbance. Garcia and Owen’s unhealthy relationship was apparent on and off the field. Owens’ went as far as insulting Garcia by calling him a homosexual during his interview with Playboy. With the hopes of keeping Terrell Owens beyond 2003, the front office released Jeff Garcia and running back Garrison Hearst in order to free up cap space. Following a 7-9 record and missing playoffs for the first time in two years, Terrell Owens wanted out of San Francisco. He even reached an agreement with another team while under contract. Owens was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004. With the poison finally gone, the 49ers were left without a trusted head coach, a proven quarterback, and workhorse running back. At the conclusion of the 2004 season, the San Francisco 49ers finished 2-14.
Terrell Owens took his diva personality to Philadelphia and Dallas. It’s safe to say he wore out his welcome fairly fast. He only lasted two seasons as an Eagle and three years as a Cowboy. At each destination he visited, Owens always found controversy, if not, he created it. In Philadelphia, he ridiculed the organization, team, and fan base; calling them classless. In Dallas, he complained about not getting the ball, while statistically being the most targeted. Due to his reputation, he signed a string of one year deals with the Buffalo Bills, Cinncinatti Bengals, Allen Wranglers of the independent football league and finally with the Seattle Seahawks. His attitude was his undoing and the reason why many fans dislike him.
It’s obvious that the San Francisco 49ers were heavily affected by the “T.O Show.” Up until his shenanigans, the 49ers were a complete team. Since being drafted in 1996 till his departure in 2004, the organization reached the playoff five times. Owens and his diva attitude forced our hand in releasing Steve Maruichi, would had a 57-39 overall record with the 49ers, and Jeff Garcia. Garcia, who was finally understanding the west coast offense, had the toughness, accuracy and mobility to be a dynamic quarterback. Not only did Terrell Owens, destroy the team but also sent the organization into the Dark Ages. We, the forever faithful, had to embark on a decade of struggles and heart break to reach the promise land once again. It has been ten years exactly since Terrell Owens has worn a 49ers jersey, but nothing can turn back the clock to replace the glory he stole. With that said; without the T.O saga in 49ers history, our present wouldn’t be possible. We wouldn’t of been able to draft building block players like Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, and Alex Smith. The victories against the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Green Bay Packers would not have had the same magnitude to them. In the end, despite his numerous achievements and records; Terrell Owens will not receive an applause from me this Sunday.