The average recovery time from a fractured fibula, high ankle sprain and torn deltoid ligament is nearly 12 weeks. On Feb. 6, exactly 49 days after sustaining a combination of those injuries following a now-banned horsecollar tackle by Cowboys safety Roy Williams, Terrell Owens suited up to play wideout for the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Surely, the pregame scuttlebutt went, the Eagles would use Owens as a decoy to take the pressure off of their other receivers, who on their own scared exactly no one. Surely, critics cried, Owens was being selfish as usual, ignoring his doctors' objections and putting his own quest for glory over that of his team.
Owens needed all of 12 seconds to shut the haters up: He caught a 7-yard pass from Donovan McNabb on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage. He hauled in a 9-yarder on the next possession, and, running gingerly and without that explosiveness that has made him one of the best receivers in NFL history, a 30-yarder on the next. Unable to soar over or outrun the defensive backs as he has so often during his 10-year career, Owens simply turned himself into the best possession receiver on the field -- Wayne Chrebet in Superman's body. Owens finished with nine catches for 122 yards -- and we winced along with him after each improbable grab.
Had the Eagles won, we might be talking about Owens' performance in the same breath as Willis Reed's heroic appearance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. But the Eagles lost to the Patriots, 24-21, and Owens' heroics were lost in a swarm of B's: Brady, Bruschi, Branch and Belichick.
Then came this offseason's T.O. show, which pushed his super Super Bowl even further into the past. T.O.'s critics gleefully slammed him for not-so-obliquely calling out McNabb for becoming "tired in the Super Bowl"; for demanding a new contract and for being booted from training camp for a week.
Just because he's better at making enemies than Kristin from Laguna Beach doesn't make Terrell Owens any less of a sportsman. Less of a sportsmensch? Sure. But wouldn't sports be boring if every athlete was a toe-the-line, coach-respecting, eminently unquotable Derek Jeter-type? In fact, some would even argue that Owens' antics enhance his greatness on the field, at least as far as entertainment value.
In his autobiography Catch This!, Owens wrote, "Sports, at least pro sports, [are] about your ability to go out onto the field or the court and perform when it [counts]. The critics could keep on talking; I was going to keep playing football and try to help the Eagles win their first Super Bowl." In 2005, Owens nearly did just that in the year's most stunning, stirring, and brave performance, one that shouldn't be forgotten, no matter his peripheral shenanigans. Last year, SI named an entire roster of guys -- the Boston Red Sox -- as its Sportsmen of the Year. This year, we only need two letters: T.O.