By Art Stricklin
SAN FRANCISCO– Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens made the quote "Get your popcorn ready" famous during his three stellar seasons with the team, but he will have to keep the celebration and popcorn on hold a little longer as he failed to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback Bret Favre, the all-time leader in touchdowns, yards and games played when he retired, highlighted a strong class announced on Saturday night at the Bill Graham Center next to City Hall in downtown San Francisco.
Also included was Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, offensive lineman Orlando Pace, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who played for Dungy, linebacker Kevin Greene and recently deceased Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler, along with past 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo and 1950s guard Dick Stanfel.
Last year, Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame after waiting several years to get inducted. Offensive tackle Larry Allen was a first ballot inductee in 2013.
"Unfortunately, I did not make it, but congrats to the 2016 HOF Class," Owens tweeted after the announcement had been made. "Thanks to all my fans for ur unwavering love and support. #ONLYGODCANJUDGEME."
He was in town for the weekend of parties and events in the San Francisco Bay area and attended the Golden State Warriors NBA game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, giving a lengthy on-set interview to ESPN. He added he was honored to be considered, but disappointed, and understands the waiting process to receive the hall call.
Longtime NFL draft guru and former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt said it is only a matter of time before Owens joins the 22 players in Canton, Ohio, who spent parts of their careers with the organization.
"To get in your first year, you have to be off the charts great," said Brandt. "Somebody like a Gale Sayers, the youngest guy ever to get in, or a Bret Favre. It doesn't mean Terrell won't get in, that's for sure."
Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo, who threw 34 touchdown passes to Owens during their time together, joined the chorus of Dallas disappointment about his former teammate's lack of induction this year.
"Just judging by the numbers, it's a no-brainer," Romo said while making the rounds of radio row in the NFL Media Center. "He played at a high level for a long time."
Owens is sixth in league history in catches (1,0780, second in receiving yards (15,934) and third in touchdown receptions (153). After eight years with the San Francisco 49ers and three in Dallas, he also had two with the Philadelphia Eagles and one each with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals
"Sometimes it just a waiting process," said Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, a voter in the Hall of Fame selection process. "You have to be patient."
Owens, who played football at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was one of 15 finalists who were considered in Saturday's inductee meeting with members of the Pro Football Writers Association. It lasted nine hours at the Mascone Convention Center in downtown San Francisco.
He was eliminated in the first round of voting on Saturday morning. Former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson, who teamed with owner/general manager Jerry Jones to build the Cowboys dynasty in the 1990s, just missed out on being one of the 15 finalists this year. He and Owens can be re-considered before the 2017 Super Bowl, which will be held in Houston.
The wide receiver position has always proven difficult to gain enshrinement because of the changing nature of the position, with more players gaining a higher number of catches and yards in today's pass-happy offenses.
Cowboy's legendary receiver Bob Hayes waited 29 years for his enshrinement call, and there have been no first-ballot wide receivers chosen since Jerry Rice, considered perhaps the best of all time, was tabbed in his first year of eligibility in 2010.
COWBOY CONTINGENT: As at any Super Bowl, there was a large contingent of former Cowboys greats in attendance. Among those honored over the weekend were former Super Bowl MVPs and NFL Man of the Year award winners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, the NFL's all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, plus wide receiver Michael Irvin, who sat next to Jones at the NFL Honors Ceremony on Saturday night. Defense end Randy White was honored before the game with all the previous Super Bowl MVPs.
Linebacker Chuck Howley the only MVP ever from a losing team, Dallas' last-second loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl V, was unable to attend the pregame ceremonies due to health reasons. Harvey Martin, who won co-MVP honors with White in Super Bowl XII, passed away in 2001.
HALL DROUGHT? Brandt, 82, has been associated with the Cowboys since their first season in 1960 and still lives in Dallas, where he closely follows the team and the NFL. He said the Cowboys are still lacking players who deserve the call to the hall.
"I still wish we could get Cliff Harris into the Hall of Fame, he deserves it. I think Drew Pearson gets overlooked because they don't think he had enough total catches, but he led the league in catches twice.
"I think it's getting better for Dallas. Part of a big reason for players getting in is the presentation before the selection committee. Rick Gosselin is so respected. He has done a great job of presenting players and getting them in. And, that's going to continue."