The fact that Terrell Owens on Saturday became the first former Chattanooga Moc player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame started me thinking about his college career.
In 1999-2000, I helped UTC put together a history book called “Mocs Football: A History,” so I went back and looked at it for information about the star player.
I had interviewed coach Buddy Nix for the book, and he remembered that Mr. Owens had not been a big recruit. In fact, he was not even believed to be the best freshman the Mocs had signed from Alexander City, Ala., going into the 1992 season. That honor went to the then-more-heralded Derek Hall, who also went on to have a solid career with the Mocs.
As coach Nix remembered in 1999 of Mr. Owens, “He wasn’t a very hot commodity. Terrell was not a starter in high school. Terrell was physically a good athlete and a little late developer. But you could see a lot of raw talent.”
Mr. Owens actually played some basketball for coach Mack McCarthy in 1993-94 after his sophomore year, and coach Nix thought that helped him blossom as an athlete and developed his full potential.
About his best football game – and a contest in which Mr. Owens showed a glimpse of what he would later do with such teams as the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys – occurred in the 1993 game against Marshall.
In a contest played at historic Chamberlain Field – where Mr. Owens played all his home games with Finley Stadium not opening until 1997 – perennial 1-AA power Marshall under future Georgia coach Jim Donnan went up 14-0 and appeared headed to easy victory.
But with four touchdown passes from UTC quarterback Kenyon Earl, the Mocs under first-year coach Tommy West came back in dramatic fashion and won, 33-31, in what was a rare high moment for UTC during that stretch.
And who was the player who caught all four TD passes? That’s right, Terrell Owens.
After coach West left for Clemson following that season, coach Buddy Green arrived to coach Terrell during his last two seasons as a Moc in 1994 and 1995.
In 1994, after an early-season loss to Alcorn State and future Tennessee Titan Steve McNair at Chamberlain Field, Mr. Owens caught a touchdown pass and ran for a score in a win against Garden-Webb.
In 1995, while catching passes from such quarterbacks as Jeff Peters and Brian Hampton, Mr. Owens would close out his career at the end of the year by catching at least one pass in a game for a record-setting 20th straight time. He received all-Southern Conference honors on the season for all his efforts as well.
He had actually broken the receiving record with a catch in an 11th straight game in a lop-sided loss at Auburn earlier in the year.
Another Owens’ highlight that year, although it was called back on a penalty, was a 51-yard TD scamper against East Tennessee State and coach Mike Cavan, best known as the former Georgia assistant coach who recruited Herschel Walker. During the play, Mr. Owens was subbing for injured quarterback Hampton.
By the time Mr. Owens’ career was winding down, UTC fans were realizing what everyone in the NFL would soon become aware of – he was a special player.
And that became clear Saturday with the announcement that he would be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.