Team Outlier, aka the Seattle Seahawks, took down the big top on one act Tuesday and put up a fresh one for another: The Terrell Owens “Humble as Dirt Show,” wherein one of the great sad-clown acts in pro sports transforms into … um, Gabby Douglas, all smiles, innocence and triple back flips for America.
The first act closed with the expected news that veteran newcomer Matt Flynn has been appointed the quarterback starter for the first exhibition game against Tennessee Saturday at the Clink, and that 5-foot-11 rookie Russell Wilson will play the second half.
Last year’s starter, Tarvaris Jackson, will get no more reps in practice this week, meaning that the three-way QB battle, which has entranced and enraged portions of the fruited plain that care about such things, is all but over.
“We know what T-Jack can do,” coach Pete Carroll said, “We had him for 14 games and four exhibitions (in 2011). He came in great shape, quicker than he was. I wanted really good information (on the other two) so I can make a clear-cut choice.
“Matt has done a fantastic job so far. He’s learned the system, he reads defenses, he moves well. Now I need to see him in a situation where he takes over.”
Carroll has, barring injury, made his choice, so Jackson is nearly out the door. Carroll wouldn’t talk about plans beyond Saturday. Jackson could still be showcased, but after 10 days of practice, Flynn established that he’s better quarterback, and Wilson has a more intriguing upside.
Coming in the same door is Owens, one of the most controversial me-first showboats in American sports, but who has caught more passes for more yards than anyone in NFL history except Jerry Rice. And despite his 38 years, he remains large and fast.
And now, partly because he’s 38 and mostly because it’s likely his last chance, he is in Carroll’s words, “extremely hungry and humble.” Really, he said that.
It is easier to imagine Herman Cain sweeping the category of world geography on “Jeopardy!” Then again, Owens has to know he can’t be the old Owens, because he sat out all of 2011 with a knee injury and because he will probably sit out the rest of his life if he screws up in Seattle, which Carroll has made into the last NFL refuge for the bedraggled, the marginalized and the misguided.
That’s the, ahem, mystique that comes with being the first and only team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record.
Carroll listed his reasons: Known him a long time, has a great work ethic, and desperation has changed him. Plus, Carroll doesn’t pay much attention to the rap sheet, be it criminal, cultural or clubhouse.
“That’s not even a topic around here,” he said of Owens’ penchant for disruption. “Our team is so strong and our guys are so together, there’s no one guy that’s going to do that to this football team. Not even close. I’m not worried about it.
“The standards that we set around here are much larger than just any one guy. That will help me with any situation that I am faced with and the decisions that we’ll make. We’re a bunch of young guys growing. If an older guy wants to fit, they’re going to have to do it our way. That was a really clear statement to Terrell. He knows what he’s getting into. He was more than willing and excited to do it.”
For the moment, all the now-threatened receivers are singing the same tune, which is hardly surprising. Is there any expectation that a Seahawk will say, “He’s a cancerous blight on the soul of humanity”?
“We’re all going to be looking up to him,” said Doug Baldwin, who as an undrafted free agent led the Seahawks last year in catches, yards and receiving touchdowns. “The defensive backs are excited as hell to be going up against Terrell Owens. For us receivers, we want to show him we’re good too. It’s a fun experience we can’t wait for.”
“For all of us young guys who grew up watching him it’s going to be huge.”
In fact, there’s practically a football generation between Baldwin, 24, and Owens, 38, which is why Baldwin was dumbfounded Monday when he watched Owens work out at the team’s VMAC headquarters. Owens was said to have run a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. Baldwin’s best coming out of Stanford was 4.48.
“He had crisp routes, came out of his breaks unbelievably — he’d have looked good if he were 24,” Baldwin said. “Caught everything, absorbed everything the coaches told him. He’s hungry to be back on the football field.”
Since the Seahawks hold all the power, the risks are modest. He’s on a veterans’ minimum salary, reportedly $925,000, the balance of which the Seahawks will happily eat if he starts chewing on Flynn for overlooking him, pouting on the sidelines or otherwise soiling himself in public.
The potential upside is that Owens becomes in 2012 what the recently cut Mike Williams was in 2010 — a big, strong target that sometimes takes two to cover.
For an offense that only picked its starting quarterback Tuesday, adding some 15 years of veteran experience at the other end of the pass makes some sense.
All he has to know that the diva wardrobe clashes with winning.