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  • Terrell Owens: Since he departed San Francisco in 2003, no 49er has reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

  • Paul Sakuma / AP file, 2011

    Chris Owusu wore No. 81 at Stanford and will do so with the 49ers. The wide receiver has a battle ahead of him, if the past decade is any indication.

Matt Barrows: Did T.O. curse No. 81 for 49ers?

Published: Thursday, May. 10, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 10, 2012 - 10:12 am

SANTA CLARA – Do you remember the scene in "The Incredibles" in which seamstress Edna Mode ticks off the grisly demises of the superheroes whose outfits included capes?

One had her cape sucked into a jet turbine. Another's cape got snagged on a launching missile, etc., etc.

"No capes!" Edna snaps when she finishes the stroll down tragic memory lane.

I'm reminded of that scene when recalling all of the 49ers' wide receivers who have donned No. 81 post-Terrell Owens.

Many have worn the number. Nary one has had any sustained success, and most have flamed out in spectacular fashion almost as soon as the jersey draped their shoulder pads. The red and white No. 81 is equivalent to the "Brady Bunch" tiki doll. Wear it and you're bound to wake up with a tarantula crawling across the bridge of your nose.

I'm not saying Owens, who left San Francisco following the 2003 season spewing venom and torching bridges, placed a curse on the 49ers like some evil wizard who casts a pox on a forsaken kingdom.

But I'm not saying he didn't.

No San Francisco wide receiver has gotten remotely close to the Pro Bowl since he left. In fact, none has reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season, which in the age of hyper-passing offenses has become only a modest achievement.

About 20 players do it each year, and 70 individual pass catchers have surpassed the mark – some multiple times – since Owens had 1,102 yards in 2003. The 49ers and the Chicago Bears are the only NFL teams that haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver in that span.

Those 49ers receivers who have worn No. 81 have fared much worse:

• Rashaun Woods (2004-05): The former first-round pick said his dream was to be a fisherman. That might be what he's doing right now.

• Antonio Bryant (2006): His wild year in San Francisco included a drive up Highway 101 in an orange Lamborghini that ended with him in leather restraints in the back seat of a patrol car.

• Brandon Williams (2006-07): The former third-round pick wanted to be a rapper. That may be what he's doing right now.

• Brandon Jones (2009): The free-agent pickup didn't win over his position coach and ended his only season with the 49ers with one reception and one notable flub on a punt return.

• Braylon Edwards (2011): He wore No. 81 in the preseason and didn't last through the regular season.

Which brings us to the present day.

The 49ers essentially spent the offseason trying to exorcise the T.O. Curse. The team added free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and then used its first-round pick on another wideout, A.J. Jenkins.

They also signed perhaps the top undrafted wide receiver, Chris Owusu, who – and here's where it gets a bit ominous – wore No. 81 at Stanford.

Some might say that fact alone should have prompted Owusu to change digits at the NFL level. His stay on the Farm was marked by three concussions over a 13-month period, including one in which he had to be taken off the field in an ambulance.

Owusu was one of the most physically gifted wideouts to enter the draft – his performance at the February scouting combine bears that out – but was not drafted. It wasn't because teams thought he was a bad receiver. It was because, with the backdrop of brain studies, lawsuits and all-too-early deaths, teams were scared by his concussion history.

There's already a sense that Owusu, who has a degree in human biology, is tempting fate by pursuing a career in football after what happened at Stanford. Now, he's the latest 49ers receiver to test the curse, having been assigned No. 81 last week.

Owusu, Jenkins and the rest of the 49ers' rookies arrive in Santa Clara today for a three-day rookie minicamp that begins Friday.

Here's hoping that group, especially Owusu, breaks the spell this season.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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