When the Bills signed Terrell Owens back in March, the phrase we all kept repeating was, “Well, at least we’ll have something to talk about…”
Fast forward to this week. The Bills are 1-2 and have been competitive but flawed in all three games. Trent Edwards has been what we thought he would, and Terrell Owens has one touchdown and just as many postgame press conferences. That’s not a whole lot of talking when you consider the traditional T.O. routine, in which what was said after the game was almost as important as what went on during it.
For the sake of everyone’s best interests, let’s restate the purpose of Owens’ time in Buffalo: to get a new contract and prove he’s not an uncontrolable locker room cancer. That’s it. Any realistic Bills fan knows and understands this, and can only hope to reap the rewards of a good effort. Terrell Owens didn’t come to Buffalo to take the Bills to the playoffs or fall in love with the city and play out his career at the Ralph. Owens is here because he had a small list of places to pick from and the Bills (at the time) seemed like “a good fit.”
But two things have to happen for that to work. First Owens needs to play well, then he needs to stay away from controversy. That first part hasn’t happened so far, and until Sunday there wasn’t a chance for that second part, either. However the difference between the first two games of the year and Sunday was simple: the record.
No matter how badly Owens wanted out of the obligatory postgame interview, he had to talk about his streak of consecutive games with a catch. That was what ESPN wanted to talk about, and the news brief that will be printed in newspapers across the country. Oh, and the NFL told him he had to do it. And so he was going to talk about it, but he wasn’t going to like it.
Now an athlete being wary of reporters is certainly nothing new, but with Owens it’s almost expected. He’s seen his words replayed thousands of times and controversy blow up out of nowhere, and he knows what happened when ESPN gets hold of relatively tame comments just days before. Owens didn’t want any part of that again, especially when the offensive performance was worthy of even more critical words.
Owens may be wary of the media using his words for evil, but here’s the thing about sports reporters: that’s pretty much their job. Any reporter not trying to make an athlete say something interesting is either lazy, incompetent, or a combination of the two. That’s what they are supposed to do. Beat writers want quotes that jive with their game story, columnists want quotes that support their position, and television and radio reporters want a good soundbyte. That’s the nature of the beast, and no one wants to leave with vanilla.
However what happened with Owens was worse than vanilla: they got nothing. Despite gracing the media with his presence after two weeks of silence, Owens offered nothing worthy of regurgitation. Reporters pressed a bit more and Owens fought back. Both sides were wrong, but it’s what happens when this sort of thing goes down.
A reporter would rather get a bland quote that fits the motif than nothing at all. That’s only going to make a guy on deadline frustrated and slowly turn them against the player. Everyone in Buffalo heard the stories from reporters in San Francisco, Philladelphia, and Dallas; most balked and claimed exaggeration. However personal experience can quickly make people change their minds.
What Owens tried to do in staying silent and, most recently reticent, is the classic example of a Catch-22. He’s trying to say little and avoid media attention, but his modus operandi is only going to draw further media ire. He could have Jason Pominville’d his way through the season, but instead he gave the silent treatment. Then he got defensive. If the local and national media wasn’t going to pepper him before, they sure as hell will now. After two weeks of silence and one week of bitterness, Owens has done everything but make friends within the Buffalo media circle.
That’s not to say everyone involved was willing to offer him a friendly pen. We’ll never know how everyone feels in the reporter’s scrum, but the pool is tainted now. By blowing off the notebooks, then mocking them from a podium on Sunday; Owens has put the Buffalo media in the same frame of mind as Dallas and Philly, and it only took three weeks.
I don’t think Owens is going to convince anyone that the Buffalo sports media is a tough-as-nails, athlete-killing machine. What T.O. wants is to be viewed as the good guy, someone in a bad spot with everyone out to get him. He wants sympathy, a sympathy he can no longer get by complaining about his quarterback, no matter how justified it is. It was a calculated move, but a move that backfired once again.
What really matters happens on the field. Fans know this and that’s really all they want. We’re tired of talk, we want to see results on the field and nothing else. If Owens scores once a game and looks interested most fans wouldn’t care if he made Chris Berman voodoo dolls and sold them on eBay. Still, everyone knows the T.O. show is a two-act performance. Not everyone cares if they get it, but they know it’s usually there.
People expect the second act, even if it’s as vanilla as they come.