Terrell Owens is known for being one of the greatest NFL receivers of all time. He’s known for his uncanny playing ability and his sometimes questionable antics in the locker room. He’s also known for his outlandish touchdown celebrations.
But there’s something few know about one of Alexander City’s most famous natives. He almost never stepped foot on a football field in college. He almost gave up the sport completely when he was still a Benjamin Russell Wildcat.
It’s not because Owens didn’t love football. It’s because he wanted to play. But in high school, he didn’t have the size or the skills to earn playing time, and for that, he almost quit the sport altogether.
“Coach (Steve) Savarese, who was my head coach at that time, didn’t give up on me,” Owens said. “There was a time when I wanted to quit football and he wouldn’t allow me to quit. I remember my mom had to get up at like 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning to meet with him and he basically told her he’s not going to let me quit.”
Owens was never a starter at Benjamin Russell. He was a standout athlete on not just the football field but also on the basketball court and for the track team. But he never quite worked his way into a starting position. Fast forward to 25 years after his graduation from BRHS, and Owens is being inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame today and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
“I had my three Ds, which are desire, dedication and discipline, but I think there’s two R words that are resonating with me right now,” Owens said. “That’s resilience and relentless. If you have a resilient attitude about things and you have that relentless pursuit of trying to be great, if you’re average and you’re trying to get good. You can’t just go from average to great right away. There’s a progress in there. I did it, and I know that (others) can do it. You have to believe in yourself and surround yourself with good people.”
Owens’ saga is the definition of an inspirational story. He rose from a virtual bench player to one of the all-time greats. After storming onto the football scene at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Owens was drafted in 1996, playing the majority of his career for the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. He was selected to the Pro Bowl six times, and his 15,934 receiving yards ranks second in NFL history. He is also third in receiving touchdowns with 153 in his carer.
“I’m a perfect example for any kid, but especially in the state of Alabama and especially in Alexander City,” Owens said. “If I can make it, you can make it. Now I’m in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and I’m about to be inducted into Canton (Ohio, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame is located). I don’t know any more motivation those kids need, other than you really just have to do some self-reflection. If you have to understand that if you want to be something special, you have to do some different things.”
Owens was passed up on by the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee twice before his ultimate selection this year, and because of that, the induction into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame may be that much more special to him.
“That’s not to slight the other one,” Owens said. “But I’ve been open and candid about the process in which the Pro Football Hall of Fame has been conducted. There’s no bias to (the ASHOF). There’s no political stance. They recognize me for what I’ve done and my body of work.”
The official ASHOF Induction Ceremony is tonight at the Sheraton Ballroom in Birmingham. Other members of the 2018 Class, which is the 50th HOF class, are Stewart Clink, Johnny Davis, Chan Gailey, Tim Hudson, Bill Jones, Kathy McMinn and Dabo Swinney.
Owens is just one of many famous now that are in the ASHOF, and being among those greats was the biggest blessing for Owens.
“You think about the people that are in this Hall of Fame, and it’s very, very special,” Owens said. “It’s very special the class that I’m going in with. You think about the Jesse Owenses, the Bo Jacksons, the Carl Lewises, you can go around this room and pick out people that will stand out. For me, it’s very special.
“Not many people get to go into two Hall of Fames in the same year within six months of each other, and I think that’s kind of a testament and really God just acknowledging and confirming a lot of things as far as if there was any doubt about who I am and what I’ve accomplished, this is it.”