Pain and promise.
Those are the first two things that come to mind when Terrell Owens thinks of the only Super Bowl he ever played in during his storied career. Pain, as in the “excruciating” pain he felt in the hospital while recovering from a fractured fibula and the promise he made from that same hospital bed to his teammates that he would be back to play in the Super Bowl.
“The injury I sustained, a lot of doctors said I wouldn’t even be walking by the time I was running,” Owens said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “For me, it took a lot of willpower, the mental part of it, to get back to the point where I would be able to mentally block out anything that was bothering me. … I told my teammates on the radio, that if they made it to the Super Bowl, I would be ready.”
And he was. A record-setting career led Owens to the Super Bowl one time, where he caught nine passes for 122 yards in the Eagles' 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
But win or lose, that Super Bowl was the pinnacle of Owens’ career.
“If you don’t make it, then you don’t have anything to measure your success against,” said Owens, who is expected to be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2017. “All you can do is reflect on personal and team successes and figure if that makes you successful.”
Though the game itself was a thrill, the season leading up to it may have defined Owens in many ways. After eight years and no Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, Owens knew the Eagles believed he was the missing piece that could propel Philadelphia to the big game.
From the first day he was an Eagle, Owens felt he fulfilled that role, on and off the field.
“A lot of people said I brought a lot of swagger — even in games I didn’t play — that carried over onto the field,” he said. “I felt like we were all kind of playing for each other and we had a level of swagger that they didn’t have before. I think we all saw what was in front of us. It’s just we got there, and came up a little bit short.”
His performance was considered a triumph, however.
“T.O. did a heck of a job,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said after the game. “I was proud of the effort.”
Owens played basketball and football at Chattanooga and anchored the Mocs' 400-meter relay in track. He was drafted in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the 49ers. He made a game-winning touchdown catch with three seconds remaining against the Green Bay Packers in a 1998 NFC Wild Card playoff games dubbed “The Catch II.”
Over his 15-year NFL career that included stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks, Owens was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a five-time first-team All-Pro. He led the NFL in receiving touchdowns in 2001, 2002 and 2006 and is one of only five players to total 15,000 or more receiving yards in a career.
Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.