No T.O. No problem.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame won’t have Terrell Owens for its 2018 induction ceremony on Aug. 4, and that’s not exactly news. In an unprecedented move, the former wide receiver last month announced he’ll stiff Canton — the first inductee ever to boycott the event — and, forget how that makes him look. It is, as his supporters insist, his right.
But it’s also the right of the Hall of Fame… and its responsibility … to carry on without him. And so it will. Owens will not be introduced for Friday night’s Gold Jacket ceremony, nor will he be announced the following night at Canton’s annual induction ceremony, said the Hall’s executive director, Joe Horrigan.
“The focus,” Horrigan said, “is on the guys who are here.”
And that excludes Owens.
Instead of showing up at Canton, T.O. intends to make his acceptance speech at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. And, yes, he will precede the Hall by making it in the afternoon — or hours before the Class of 2018 ceremony in Canton.
But this just in: The Class of 2018 is not about Terrell Owens. It’s about all eight inductees, including former Green Bay star Jerry Kramer, who waited 45 years to reach Canton. And Owens cannot … and will not … spoil or overshadow their party.
The Hall has made sure of that.
But let’s make something clear: This isn’t the Pro Football Hall of Fame being vindictive or punitive. It’s about it being sensible. As Horrigan pointed out, the situation isn’t unlike a senior who decides to boycott his school’s graduation. His name isn’t mentioned, and his diploma isn’t awarded.
Instead, he receives it afterward.
And, so, Owens’ gold jacket — which, under normal circumstances, would be placed on his shoulders at Friday’s Gold Jacket dinner — will be mailed first thing Saturday morning. But his name that evening won’t be mentioned with the others, just at it won’t be recognized 24 hours later when individuals are introduced at Saturday nationally-televised induction.
That doesn’t mean he’ll be absent altogether on Hall-of-Fame weekend. When the entire class is the subject, his name will be included … just as his image will be included on all depictions of the Class of 2018. But that’s it, and for the best of reasons.
“There’s no reason to bring him up as an individual,” said Horrigan. “He’s not here.”
Seven others will be, and if there’s a concern there it’s the usual complaint: Keeping speakers at the 15-minute maximum for acceptance speeches. A year ago, three inductees more than doubled that, each exceeding 3o minutes. In 2016, Brett Favre went 36:17, while the year before Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown each exceeded 30 minutes.
Of course, some of those speeches were the most memorable, too.
The Hall has tried a number of ideas to deter speakers from filibustering, including flashing lights. But that lasted only as long as it took 1996 inductee Dan Deirdorf to unscrew the light bulb and continue talking.
“We’re at the mercy of self-control,” said Horrigan.
Nevertheless, the Hall will make another attempt to curtail run-on speeches by re-emphasizing the 15-minute limit when it holds a conference call with its inductees next week. And while that guarantees nothing, there is reason to believe the night could be shorter.
First of all, there won’t be eight speakers, there will be seven, with Owens absent. Second, former GM Bobby Beathard, the contributor inductee, is expected to make his acceptance speech by video, even though he’ll be in attendance.
Beathard is experiencing the early stages of dementia.
So that leaves six speakers, including former Ravens’ star Ray Lewis, and with one hour already devoted to TV commercials and videos, the event (which begins at 7 p.m. Eastern) could run deep into the night. But that may not be all that bad, according to Horrigan.
“When we went back to the networks,” he said, “we were surprised to find the highest ratings were at the end of the show. And it wasn’t just one year. It was every year.”
So stay tuned. T.O. may not. But millions of others will.