When people refer to Terrell Owens having problems with Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, the vast majority of the time they will claim that Owens “called Jeff Garcia gay.” They use this as one of their examples of Owens being a “bad teammate.”
They are, of course, referring to an Owens interview with Playboy magazine.
The problem is…are you ready for this? Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia were no longer teammates at the time of this interview.
The interview people are referring to came out in the summer of 2004 when Owens was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and Garcia was on the Cleveland Browns. Owens’s time as Garcia’s teammate was officially over months earlier, when the 49ers released Garcia on March 2nd, and he knew they had played their last game as teammates as far back as December 21st of 2003, when he learned he had suffered a broken collarbone against the Philadelphia Eagles. Owens knew he was not returning to the 49ers for the 2004 season before it even began, when his agent at the time, David Joseph, met with General Manager Terry Donahue during the summer of 2003 and could not come to an agreement on a contract extension.
So even before we analyze everything else about this myth, anything Owens said about Garcia at the time of this interview is irrelevant. You can not claim that Owens is a bad teammate because he says something “bad” about someone who isn’t his teammate.
Nonetheless, people still probably think that was a lousy thing to do to someone. The problem is, he didn’t do anything of the sort.
In the interview in question, Owens was specifically asked if he “thought” Jeff Garcia was gay; a question emanating from the rumors about Garcia’s sexual preference that had been around for years. It may come as a shock to you that Garcia, who talked with a noticeable lisp, was single at age 34, and was quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers, was fending off “gay” rumors for years.
And Owens answered by implying that he thought he was. “Like my boy tells me – if it looks like a rat, smells like a rat, by golly, it’s a rat.”
In the same interview, Owens was asked how he would feel about having a gay teammate, and he made it known that he personally wouldn’t have a problem if one of his teammates was gay. “He can do whatever he wants in his personal life.” In other words, Owens was not even looking to take the opportunity to insult an ex-teammate, but merely implying he thought the same thing many others did at the time.
Immediately after it hit the fan, Owens clarified in his press conference from Eagles camp the next day that he was not intending to say that Garcia was gay and that he did not know whether Garcia was gay or not.
Owens backed off his comment to Playboy after the Eagles’
practice Tuesday, saying, “My thing was I didn’t say that he was
gay. Like I said, the conversation and interview was loose and from
my knowledge I’m not sure if Jeff is gay or not.”
This doesn’t count, though, because when it comes to Owens, only the first and worst interpretation of something matters through the passage of time.
So did Owens and Garcia have any conflict during their time as teammates? The answer is yes, but it was very brief – for about one week during their last year together – and it was entirely media-created.
What do I mean mean by “media-created?”
During a blowout loss to the Minnesota Vikings in week 4, a struggling Garcia was benched for Tim Rattay, who played well in relief. Owens, who was a perpetual media target because of his controversial touchdown celebrations in Dallas 3 years earlier, was asked if he thought it was time for a quarterback change. He gave a politically correct answer:
Who knows? That’s not my position to say we need a QB change, but Rat (Rattay) did a good job when he was in there. Whoever is in there, I’m going to catch the ball. Even if it’s (Ken) Dorsey, I’m going to catch the ball. All the quarterbacks can throw deep. It’s all about timing.
The problem was, the media had other ideas. Armed with the power to make up headlines and completely misrepresent what Owens said, they claimed Owens had “suggested”or “hinted at” a quarterback change and told Jeff Garcia that was what he had said. Garcia responded with the cryptic remark, “we can not allow this sickness to spread,” which then made its way back to Owens.
For much of the next week leading up to the Lions game, the two of them weren’t speaking to each other. Finally, at some point before game day, Garcia went up to Owens’s hotel room and they apologized and moved on.
The rest of the year was uneventful, but once Owens’s time in San Francisco had ended and the Playboy interview came out, the revisionist historians known as the sports media blurred the timeline and made you unaware of the fact that “it looks like a rat” had absolutely nothing to do with Owens and Garcia during their time as teammates. It worked perfectly as a lead-in for their next pet project – creating conflict between McNabb and Owens in Philadelphia.