Terrell Owens would like you to know he has changed.
The former 49ers receiver was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame on Sunday at halftime of their game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before the game, he stood on the field in brown pants, a grey-brown jacket and — naturally — a tan turtleneck shirt. Nevermind it was around 80 degrees and sunny. This isn’t the same guy who held a news conference while working out in his driveway during a dispute with then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid.
Wearing a bright-red 49ers Hall of Fame blazer, Owens earned roars of approval from the crowd while being inducted at halftime.
“Thank you so much. So, so much,” Owens said.
The former All-Pro receiver is known for being much, much more flamboyant.
After all, this is the guy who placed a ball in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys’ star on the field after scoring a touchdown. Yes, it’s the guy who carried a Sharpie in his socks onto the field and signed a game ball after he scored. The 49ers even gave fans gold pom-poms to commemorate the time Owens celebrated a touchdown like a cheerleader.
Despite his dapper appearance and inoffensive comments, there were signs of the old T.O. fans used to love and hate.
With his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring glinting gold and blue, Owens looked like he could still step in and help the current 49ers roster. And maybe he’d like to do that. Asked what he missed about playing, the 45-year-old couldn’t help but show a brash flash of his old self-confidence.
“I miss the competition. I know I could play today, given the opportunity,” Owens said.
There’s no doubt he has an NFL-ready resume.
He’s third on the all-time receiving yardage list with 15,934 yards, behind Jerry Rice (22,895) and Larry Fitzgerald (16,496 before play Sunday). Owens is third on the all-time receiving touchdowns list with 153, behind Rice (197) and Randy Moss (156).
And not only are offenses even more pass-happy than when he played, but NFL rules changes have limited contact between defensive backs and receivers.
You could almost see Owens licking his chops thinking about playing with today’s rules when he was asked about it before Sunday’s game.
“It definitely would have been advantageous to me,” Owens said. “... I wouldn’t be a slouch, that’s for sure.”
Talking about his playing days brought out another hint of the old T.O. Owens was asked about making it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. Miffed over not making it in his first year of eligibility, Owens famously decided to stay away from the induction ceremony when he was voted in.
“I should have been in on my first go-round, but I’m in now. I have my gold jacket. That’s all that matters,” Owens said.
That’s about all you were getting out of Owens on Sunday. The loud 49ers-red jacket he wore during the induction ceremony was as much of a statement as he was going to make.
He’s so averse to controversy that when the topic of Antonio Brown came up — another receiver not known for being shy — Owens deferred. Does he have any advice for AB? None he’s going to share with the media. They’re good friends, Owens said, and he wasn’t going to say anything to put his buddy in the spotlight. If he has something to say, it will be in private.
“It’s unfortunate what’s going on with him,” Owens said.
That’s it. That’s what you’re going to get out of Owens now. No drama. No sign of the guy who regularly led SportsCenter with his brash comments or touchdown antics. He’s respectable. He’s a member of the 49ers and Pro Football Halls of Fame. It’s different now.
“I represent myself in the best way possible, I represent my family, I represent the organization, I never had any off-the-field trouble. I attribute that to the way I was raised,” Owens said.