Each boasting incredible career numbers and achievements, as well as questionable actions away from the NFL field, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 46-person Selection Committee faced a difficult decision when it came to picking 2016’s class of inductees. On Saturday, they chose former Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison over wide out Terrell Owens, who starred for the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys among others.
The election result, one day before the Super Bowl, immediately sparked debate as to why Owens, who ranks second all-time in career receiving yardage, was left off over Harrison. Many believe Owen’s numerous controversies away from the field and perhaps a poor relationship with the media did in his chances of a first-ballot selection.
But Owens' actions didn’t even come close to the alleged shooting incident involving Harrison and a Philadelphia drug dealer at a car wash back in April 2008. Harrison was never charged with a crime, though the shots fired came from a gun registered in Harrison’s name.
Still, the Hall of Fame specifically requires voters only take a player's football career under consideration, and both Harrison and Owens have stellar resumes worthy of a career coronation in Canton.
Owens' omission shouldn't be too surprising. It’s very possible the Selection Committee was simply making up for two previous snubs against Harrison. The HOF specifies a player is eligible for induction five years after they have retired, and Harrison hung up his cleats in 2008. However, he was denied in his first year of eligibility back for the class of 2014 and 2015. Owens retired after the 2010 season, opening him up for a first-ballot selection this year, while former Raiders wide out Tim Brown continues to twist in the wind.
Here’s how Harrison and Owens stack up:
Finishing with 1,102 receptions, Harrison had four straight years with 100 or more receptions, and eight straight with at least 82. He led the NFL in catches twice, in 2000 and 2002, and his record of 143 receptions in 2002 still stands as the single-season record. Harrison currently ranks third all-time in career receptions, behind only Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez.
Owens totaled 1,078 receptions, and posted only one 100-reception season, in 2002 with San Francisco. But he did notch six 80-plus reception years, and unlike Harrison, Owens did so without the help of Peyton Manning.
There’s little question Harrison benefited greatly from Manning, who should be a first-ballot selection in five years, while Owens played with some excellent quarterbacks but none as good as Manning. Owens caught passes from Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, and Tony Romo, and only one (McNabb) appeared in a Super Bowl.
Here lies the best point in Owens’ HOF case. He led the NFL in touchdown receptions three times, and scored 10 or more in eight different seasons, resting at third all-time in touchdown receptions with 153.
Harrison also posted eight seasons of 10-plus touchdown receptions, all in a row, and he’s fifth all-time in touchdown catches with 128.
Again, Manning becomes a factor, but Owens’ numbers look that much more impressive.
Harrison’s most productive years came in a mind-boggling eight-season stretch. He led the league in yards twice and between 1999 and 2006 he posted at least 1,100 yards. Harrison wound up seventh all-time with 14,580 receiving yards.
Owens never led the NFL in receiving yardage, but his consistent production put him behind the man many consider to be the greatest player in NFL history. Owens crossed the 1,000-yard threshold nine times, and trails only Rice for second all-time with 15,934 yards.
Total number of games may play a role in the committee’s decisions. Harrison racked up all of his numbers over 190 career games and 188 starts, though he was not a huge factor in his final two seasons. Owens appeared in 219 games, making 201 starts, and remained a strong contributor as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals in his final NFL season.
But the one thing truly separating Harrison and Owens in this year’s class is postseason success. Harrison appeared in 16 playoff games, snagging 65 receptions for 883 yards and two touchdowns. He helped Indianapolis win the Super Bowl in 2006 season.
Owens appeared in the playoffs with three different teams, totaling 12 games and pulling in 54 receptions for 751 yards and five touchdowns. However, Owens did make one Super Bowl, Philadelphia’s 2004 matchup with New England, and though an injury kept him out in the preceding games Owens torched a top-notch Patriots defense for nine catches for 122 yards.