Little has changed for Terrell Owens other than his age and his surroundings.
For the 48-year-old Hall of Famer, the playing field is now shorter. The competition, younger. The venue, smaller.
Yet, as he arrived Saturday for his fourth week of Fan Controlled Football, wearing a solid red sweatsuit and his customary black sunglasses, he entered with the bravado of a star set to take the stage.
The physique, the swagger and confidence of an elite wide receiver remain. And Owens continues to act, talk and look the part.
But can he still play the part?
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Having reached the midpoint of the season in his return to competitive football, Owens believes he has shown that he can. That he still could be an asset in the NFL. That his age should not dictate his surroundings.
“For all the naysayers, you got all the analysts, so-called experts that say that once you get 32, 33, 34, 35, you are too old to play the game,” Owens told NBCLX. “That’s not the case for me. To see and do what I’m doing, I’ve been doing it for four weeks straight.
“So, for me, it’s something that I can do. If I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t have come back the second week or the third week or this week,” Owens said. “If this is any indication, or any inspiration for a lot of people, for anybody that said they can’t do anything or they hold a ceiling for themselves, look at me and look at what I’m doing at 48. These guys, I don’t even pay it any attention if somebody says it, but a lot of these guys are half my age. I’m still moving good, making plays.”
There’s only one active player in the NFL who was born in the same decade as Owens. It was while watching that 44-year-old player, Tom Brady, during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the postseason that T.O. noticed where his services would be of use in third-down and red-zone situations for a team on the cusp of making the playoffs or contending for a Super Bowl.
A team like the Bucs.
“They lost two-thirds of their receiving corp,” Owens said, alluding to the Bucs having waived Antonio Brown and lost Chris Godwin to injury. “They played the Los Angeles Rams, they had no production in the first half. Luckily because of Tom Brady, with his greatness, they came back, they tied the game up. They left too much time on the clock. The Los Angeles Rams end up winning the game. You put me on that field in the first half or even the second half of that game, Tom Brady could very well have his eighth Super Bowl ring.”
Or a team like the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I consistently talked with Coach [Andy] Reid during the course of the season, look at what happened to them against the Bengals,” Owens said. “They were in the red zone, their last snap was in the red zone, you saw Patrick Mahomes scrambling around because he couldn’t find anybody to get open…You put me in that situation, a red-zone situation, I’m a viable option that’s going to free up the tight end.”
But how and why would a 48-year-old succeed where current wide receivers failed in acting as a diversion for Mahomes or getting an eighth Super Bowl championship for Brady? Owens said he’d bring a unique blend, combining the experience of a Hall of Famer with the speed of a rookie.
“I guarantee you I can run under a 4.5,” Owens said of his 40-yard dash time. “I can run a 4.4 now. Will that still move the needle to make somebody pull the trigger of doing it? Who knows? But I know I can run. Speed is part of the football game, but there are a lot of people that run 4.4. But that doesn’t mean that they can actually play. For me to do that at my age and understand and be knowledgeable about the game, that’s beneficial for any team.”
Owens said one NFL team reached out last year and expressed interest.
"We had an owner that basically reached out to me, basically said keep myself ready," Owens said. "I did that. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But again, I know I can still play the game. No question about it."
Owens believes he has showcased his ability over the first four weeks of the season with the Zappers in Fan Controlled Football, a seven-on-seven indoor league played on a 50-yard field with fans calling their team’s offensive plays. Owens has eight catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns this season, though he was held without a catch Saturday as the Zappers were shut out, leading to trade speculation. The team’s struggles have come amid inconsistent quarterback play for the 0-4 Zappers, who have had Johnny Manziel for just one of the first four games.
“That’s, I guess, typical of Johnny Manziel,” Owens said during the postgame show on fubo Sports. “That’s part of why he’s probably not in the National Football League. He has to take some reasonability of his actions. He has to be a professional, even with this. Like for me, I don’t have to go to practice, but I do anyway because that’s just who I am.”
Owens has taken his hits and returned to play in each of the first four weeks despite the fact, he said, that he’s only obligated to play in four games total all season. More than stats, Owens thinks that dedication, along with his route running and ability to get open on FCF’s short field, has shown what he’s still capable of at the next level.
“This is a fast track," Owens said. "The plays are faster, it’s almost the equivalent to playing red zone every down. If you’re in the National Football League, the field is not as wide, it’s not as long. So, I know to be able to get open and do things here, there’s no doubt that I can obviously get open on a real field.”
What’s the motivation to do so at 48 years old? Particularly after a Hall of Fame career in which Owens amassed 15,934 receiving yards, third-most all time.
“I mean, just to show people that I can still do it,” Owens said. “Cause like I said, for so many people to have platforms. You have guys like Shannon Sharpe, you have Stephen A. Smith, guys that have noticed that there’s an interest of me still wanting to play if given an opportunity, saying that I can’t play, saying that I may get hurt, my body is this, that and the other. Now, what do they have to say?”
“Not that I had any doubt,” he added. “But again, you start to hear people say this, that and the other. That you can’t do this and you can’t do that. I mean, I’m human. You start to wonder, ‘Oh, can I really do it? But it’s just a matter of actually just getting out there and doing it. That’s more than half the battle for anybody that has really kind of set limitations on themselves. Doubt, self-doubt, it’s something that comes with just being alive. Every day, waking up and thinking, ‘OK can I do this? Can I not do that?’ You’ll never know until you actually put your foot forward, get out the bed and actually do it. So, this is nothing new for me. I’ve kept myself in shape throughout the course of my career and after my career. That’s why I’m able to do what I’m doing now.”
Watch Fan Controlled Football every Saturday on NBCLX over the air, on cable, at LX.com and on your favorite streaming platform.