|Tuesday, October 15
Updated: October 17, 1:48 PM ET
Love him or not, Owens always leaves a mark
By John Clayton
SEATTLE -- As he stared down the open end zone of the new Seahawks Stadium, 49ers receiver Terrell Owens was reminded of what college coaches used to tell him. "I always shine when the lights are on," Owens recalled.
The lights were on Monday night. The San Francisco 49ers were playing the Seahawks on ABC's Monday Night Football, and Owens provided his usual version of a prime time soap opera. Toward the end of the first half, Owens was upset because quarterback Jeff Garcia didn't throw to him on a play in which he would have been open for a touchdown. At halftime, Garcia and Owens chatted. They got back in sync, and Owens gave one of his most memorable touchdown performances in winning a 28-21 game over the Seahawks that established the 49ers as the team to beat in the NFC West.
Seconds before the crucial fourth-quarter series, Owens asked a trainer for a pen. The trainer gave him a magic marker, which he stuffed in a sock. Before the game, Owens promised his financial advisor, Greg Eastman, that he would score a touchdown and present him with the autographed football. Confident, Owens stared down the length of the field and saw Eastman sitting in Shawn Springs' box seats, located in the north end zone of the stadium.
"It's a T.O. thing,'' Owens said after the game.
"I officially fired my financial planner that he gave the ball to,'' Springs said jokingly after the game. "I would have done the same thing.''
The touchdown won the game for the 49ers, and added to the wacky legacy of the 49ers' franchise receiver. Sometimes, he verbally spars with coach Steve Mariucci. Sometimes, he shows his frustration to Garcia. Once, he incited a battle in Texas Stadium when he spiked a football on the Cowboys midfield star. On Monday, he laid down the ultimate disrespect, handing an autographed football to a business partner in the luxury box of the victimized cornerback.
Even for 'T.O. things,' that's a first.
"That was pretty good,'' Springs said. "That last play was pretty good. I give him a lot of credit for stopping on a dime. He and Garcia are in tune with each other.''
Owens, playing without fellow starting receiver J.J. Stokes (knee), led the 49ers with six catches for 84 yards and scored two touchdowns. For the 49ers, a two-touchdown outing was long overdue. He had only 18 catches for 201 yards and one touchdown in San Francisco's first four games. He needed a breakout game, and after a slow start, he had one.
But Owens' performance didn't meet well with other members of the Seahawks defense. Defensive tackle John Randle called Owens' ball-signing incident an embarrassment to the league and said that it should be looked at by Gene Washington, the NFL executive who levels disciplinary fines.
The NFL, however, said Tuesday it would not fine Owens for the incident.
Seahawks defensive tackle Chad Eaton was furious, saying, "To come into our stadium and show us up like that. ... Just goes to show you he has no class.''
But it's a T.O. thing, and at least the 49ers were laughing.
"I don't know much about it,'' Mariucci said of Owens' signing session. "That's a new one. I haven't seen that one before. We don't teach that.''
At least the 49ers were all joking about the incident. The Niners are 4-1 and lead the Arizona Cardinals by a game in the division. They've distanced themselves from the Rams and Seahawks in the past two weeks. No, they aren't playing the smoothest, prettiest brand of football, but they are winning and smiling about it.
The victory over the Seahawks had its costs. Backup running back Terry Jackson suffered a possible ACL tear that could have ended his season. The team was down to only two healthy safeties after Zack Bronson suffered a foot fracture that will sideline him several weeks.
But the best news for Mariucci was how Garcia and Owens were joking after the game. Owens is one of the league's greatest competitors and he always makes life interesting. Interesting can often be labeled as controversial.
Had the Niners lost, everyone would have dwelled on the dispute between the quarterback and the receiver in the first half. Owens was angry Garcia didn't find him for what he thought would have been an easy touchdown, opting instead to try a pass to Tai Streets.
"I was very frustrated,'' Owens said. "It was the same play the last couple of weeks. I was wide open. It's something to correct in the meetings. I am working hard for Jeff. I want to be a good player for him. I want to be a big-play maker, and to do that, I need to get my hands on the football. We are going to get through that, but at the beginning of the game, we were off to a rocky start.''
Garcia tried to apologize, but his biggest mission was to get the offense going. To do that, he needed to get more people involved than just Owens. The Seahawks led, 14-13, at the half. Owens had three catches for 32 yards, but the offense was inconsistent. Garcia was 10-for-18. The running game had only 52 yards.
"I could sense Terrell was frustrated a little bit,'' Garcia said. "It was a situation where midway through the second quarter, and we were driving, (and) I ended up throwing a pass to Streets' side. If I would have given Terrell the opportunity, he would have scored. I try to go to him. I know what he's seeing. But as much as I could apologize, that's not what it's all about. I feel bad about not giving him that opportunity, but I have to do what's best for this team. At the time, I made a decision to do what I did. Hopefully, he will see that on film and accept why I made that decision.''
In the second half, Garcia made all the right decisions. He started using his feet along with his mind and executed a 99-yard drive that was capped by Kevan Barlow's 6-yard touchdown that opened a 20-14 lead. Twice during that drive, Garcia ran and gained a total of 18 yards. Those runs caught the Seahawks in blitzes or in plays in which the defensive end was coming in too aggressively.
Even T.O. couldn't argue with those calls.
"My runs were not designed at all,'' Garcia said. "A lot of those runs took place because of what they did defensively and how they were covering downfield. I just saw lanes opening up and I just wanted to make positive yardage and do positive things with the football.''
Garcia finished with seven carries for 48 yards, but his running got the rest of the rushing offense going. Overall, the Niners finished with 161 yards on 31 carries. Those runs also opened up the passing offense.
"Jeff does that well,'' Mariucci said of Garcia's running. "He makes some first downs for us. He improvises. He kept moving the ball.''
Still, Owens needed one play to make his day. All week, he had been making phone calls to Springs. All week, they had been jawing at each other and taunting the other.
At halftime, for example, Springs told a reporter on the sideline, "He fears me.'' For the most part, Springs, covering Owens one-on-one on a lot of the plays, did get the best of him.
However, Owens beat him for the game-winning touchdown pass and all was right with the Niners' offense. It was a T.O. thing. It was a 49ers thing.
"We are coming around,'' Owens said. "The way we've been running the ball, it's going to open some passes downfield. Going against Shawn I knew it was going to be a battle. I'm competitive. He's competitive. He followed me in the slot and to the outside. He played pretty decent.''
But Owens beat him when it counted most.
"It was a situation where my basketball skills came into the play,'' Owens said. "I had to get in the air, go up and grab it.''
What was amazing, though, is that Owens was so confident he could go to his trainer and ask to stash a pen in his sock.
Greg Eastman received the most noted autographed football ever recorded on Monday Night Football.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.