Nobody Pulled Bayless Aside to Talk About Terrell Owens

Skip Bayless loves to make things up. As a provocateur columnist turned provocateur television personality, his job depends on it.

When it comes to Terrell Owens, one of the things Bayless loves to do is pretend he started out his tenure in the Bay Area defending Owens in his columns until, “one by one,” players who somehow became aware of this “pulled him aside” and told him he had it wrong, and Owens was evil incarnate and the worst teammate in the history of the universe.

Nobody pulled him aside. Not to tell him he was wrong in defending Terrell Owens, anyway.

First of all, even if he had defended Owens in his columns (he didn’t), the number of players who would bother reading what this hack wrote probably wouldn’t be much higher than “0.”

But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that players on the team were really interested in the sports section of the San Jose Mercury News in 2001-2003. Let’s pretend that they put on their reading glasses at the team hotel and went, “hold on, this guy is defending T.O.?! How can he defend T.O.? This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” And let’s pretend they might actually seek out a slimy weasel sports columnist who was best known for being run out of several different sports cities (including Miami, Chicago, and Dallas, the latter of which is memorable for him writing a book containing pages discussing rumors that Troy Aikman was gay).

There is one small problem; Bayless didn’t start out his tenure in the Bay Area defending Owens. He was bashing him from the very beginning. In fact, he was one of the first to go after him, likely seeing him as a great source for the brand of “controversy” he loves, having seen how badly he was vilified for his touchdown celebrations in Dallas the year before.

Observe: This is an article he wrote after the 2nd game of the 2001 season, which was Bayless’s first as a Bay Area writer.

SAN FRANCISCO _ Finally the upset was within his grasp. He’s by far the most physically blessed 49er and could have challenged Marshall Faulk as the best on the 3Com Park sod Sunday. So what if he had dropped three passes? Now he would take over.

Now his teammates looked to Terrell Owens to make a play and a statement. Here came the third-and-seven pass, a little low but extremely catchable. The Rams led 22-16, but not for long.

Owens would snatch this nose-down Jeff Garcia pass. He would do for Garcia what Jerry Rice often did for an early-1990s Steve Young. He would make Garcia’s passing stats look much better than they deserved. Rice is gone and Owens was about to be, maybe for six points. Now, says No. 81, he is The Man.

His 49ers were about to become the talk of the NFC because so many players had done so much growing up. Second-year cornerbacks Ahmed Plummer and Jason Webster had grown like weeds against the NFL’s fastest, scariest receivers. Running backs Kevan Barlow and Terry Jackson had made coming-of-age plays. On the run, Garcia had resembled Young at his most elusive.

Only one 49er failed to mature Sunday: Terrell Eldorado Owens.

He butter-fingered that pass and a postgame opportunity to face his failure like the man he wants to be. Barry Bonds almost always spends more time answering media questions after bad games. For the 35 minutes I was in the locker room, Owens sat sideways in front of his locker, chin on chest, ignoring teammates and reporters, staring at nothing. He refused to be interviewed.

T.O. looked something like a child forced to take a timeout.

Worse, Garcia suggested Owens wasn’t punishing himself over the four drops that contributed directly and intangibly to the 30-26 loss. No, Owens was pouting because Garcia hadn’t thrown more in his direction.

As Garcia gently put it: “He puts so much pressure on himself to be the go-to guy. He feels a bit of helplessness. He feels the opportunities didn’t come his way.”

This is inexcusable.

Owens can be so much better than this _ in the clutch and in the post-loss glare. He obviously can’t match Rice in nobility and savvy. Nobody can. Owens can’t be the deep terror Randy Moss is. But Owens can be the NFL’s most intimidating all-around receiver and this team’s leader.

If he ever grows up.

Understand, this is coming from an Owens fan. I loved the statement he made last September at Texas Stadium, running to the midfield star after his first touchdown catch and striking a pose that said, “What Cowboys’ mystique?” But Owens ruined the effect by immaturely trying it again.

He continues to say he’s hurt that management didn’t support him after that 41-24 victory. He has a point. He was fined by a coach, Steve Mariucci, whose values are rooted in Lombardi-era sportsmanship. Cultures clash.

But he cannot let his lingering bitterness distract him. For that matter, he cannot use Sunday’s emotional pregame tribute as an excuse. A tear ran down Owens‘ face as he helped hold up a giant American flag. But then it was time to gather himself like the great player he can be and lock in on football. Rice certainly would have.

But the Rams weren’t the Chicago Bears and this wasn’t Jerry Rice Day. Last December the Monsters of the Wrong Way vowed not to let Rice embarrass them. They double-covered him and allowed a virtually uncovered Owens to catch an NFL-record 20 passes. The Rams vowed not to let Owens embarrass them. Aeneas Williams, one of the league’s stronger and smarter cornerbacks, often was able to overplay Owens because he had safety backup.

The Man quickly grew frustrated.

Garcia appeared a little too jumpy and out of sync, and at least one pass to Owens became even more difficult to handle because it was tipped. But Pro Bowl receivers and team leaders set the tone by catching them anyway. Instead of feeding off Owens, J.J. Stokes dropped two and rookie Eric Johnson dropped another and failed to hang onto Garcia’s best throw, in the end zone.

After Owens dropped that third-and-seven pass, you could almost see his teammates deflate. Az-Zahir Hakim returned the punt 32 yards and Isaac Bruce caught a pass and cruised by four or five defenders 39 yards for a touchdown. Rams, 30-16.

After Garcia passed up Owens on one last game-turning third down _ “I just didn’t have a lane,” Garcia said _ the 49ers settled for a field goal and a moral victory. Faulk took over the way Owens should have.

Owens pouted.

That’s right – in only his second ever regular season game covering the 49ers, Bayless was bashing Owens for saying…nothing at all. Not to mention, he misquoted Garcia here to serve his agenda.

So why does Bayless say he defended Owens during his time there? Well, believe it or not, I don’t think he’s being malicious. I think he’s just really freak’n dumb and has a horrible memory.

Among the things Bayless has had mixed up:

*While he now talks about how Bill Walsh called him the smartest player he was ever around in terms of diagraming plays on a chalkboard, he wrote in an article in 2004 that a San Francisco executive told him Owens was “as dumb as a chair.”

*He thinks a confrontation with Todd Haley on the practice field led to a confrontation with Jason Witten. The Witten confrontation myth came from a made up story in the Dallas Morning News during the 2008 season after the infamous Ed Werder anonymous source article was heard ’round the world. This never happened, as Owens mentioned on the air, but that’s not even the point. What it is that makes this hilarious is that Todd Haley wasn’t on the team anymore when this bogus story came out. Haley was the receivers coach/passing game coordinator in Owens’s first season with the Cowboys, 2006. He then left for Arizona, where he was for the next two seasons while Owens remained in Dallas. During the 2008 season, Haley was too busy in confrontations with the likes of Anquan Boldin (such as on the sidelines during the NFC Championship game between the Cardinals and Eagles) to be yelling at Owens on a practice field. In actuality, Haley yelled at Owens about being late for a practice during 2006…something that would never have made the news for any other player because it’s not newsworthy. This was on the news at the time the way  allegations that Owens was faking a hamstring injury were. The moment he arrived in Cowboys camp, there were hundreds of cameras pointed on his every move, looking for any little non-issue they could make into a mountain, in ridiculous modern ESPN fashion.

*He claims that Owens “accusing Mariucci of taking his foot off the gas” against the Bears in 2001 was “the last straw” for General Manager Terry Donahue, whom he claims to have known very well when he was covering the team. Somehow he didn’t know him well enough to know that Donahue fired Mariucci thanks to conflict between Mariucci, John York, Bill Walsh, and himself. Now, when did he fire him? Oh, it was in early 2003. Guess what: Terrell Owens played the 2003-04 season under new head coach Dennis Erickson. That’s some last straw; Donahue was “furious about it,” according to Bayless (“it” being Owens’s comments that he hoped Mariucci would reconsider his openly-stated philosophy about not embarrassing other teams on the scoreboard because the loss in this game proved the game isn’t necessarily over when you think it is)…so much so that Owens played the next 2.5 seasons on the team, while Mariucci was gone after the next 1.5. He was furious about comments questioning a philosophy belonging to Mariucci, the guy Donahue was clearly not too fond of. (Also note at the end of the aforementioned article – another reference to the 49ers hoping to extend Owens’s contract before the start of the 2003 season to avoid him voiding and becoming a free agent).

Bayless isn’t alone in his selective memory, however. The media in general engages in this because the narrative depends on it. Owens playing for Dennis Erickson for the 49ers can’t exist the same way Owens playing for Wade Phillips in 2007 and 2008 for the Cowboys gets erased from the history books. “But but but but…Bill Parcells was the only coach he had in Dallas I thought?! The Player!” And Tony Romo going down with a broken finger for 3 games during the 2008 season where Owens’s numbers plummeted while the team went 1-2, only to skyrocket once Romo returned and the team went 3-0 before a tough loss to the Steelers, which was when Werdergate happened, must never be discussed, because it undermines Werder’s argument that Owens’s normal meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to discuss the offense was proof he was feuding with Romo. And they want you to forget that Donovan McNabb was out for the season after having surgery on his groin 2 games after Owens was deactivated in 2005, leading to the Eagles’ failed season. Not to mention that McNabb had been struggling on the field with that sports hernia injury since week 3, which Owens noted in the infamous Graham Bensinger interview right before he was asked about Irvin’s comments about Brett Favre as the Eagles quarterback. And of course they don’t want you to know Owens and Jeff Garcia weren’t teammates anymore at the time of the infamous Playboy interview (2004); how else would they argue that he was a bad teammate for implying he thought there might be truth to the rumors that Garcia was gay?

I could go on and on, but since nobody is still reading at this point, I’ll end there.

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