Marvin Lewis salutes two of the most recent Hall-of-Famers.
MINNEAPOLIS - On Saturday night wide receiver Terrell Owens became the third Pro Football Hall of Famer to play at least a season with the Bengals and the first in this century when the powerhouse class of 2018 was introduced.
Owens, the eccentric wide receiver who played his last season in Cincinnati when he was the Bengals' leading receiver in 2010, joined left tackle Anthony Munoz (1998) and wide receiver Charlie Joiner (1996) as former Bengals in the Hall. Munoz played all 13 seasons in Cincinnati during a career he's still regarded as the game's best left tackle and the Bengals were Joiner's middle stop in a four-year stint during the mid-1970s on the way to his glory in San Diego under Air Coryell.
That 2010 Bengals season is a 4-12 footnote, an odd blip between the 2009 AFC North sweep and the 2011 arrival of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. Its best known as the last Bengals season of quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Johnson and the only offensive player on the club last season that played with Owens back in 2010 was right tackle Andre Smith.
"Couldn't be happier for him," said former Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth Saturday from Los Angeles. "I thought he was a tremendous player. It didn't take long to see he was different. You could see he was built differently and he was wired differently. He was so explosive even at the end of his career. Honestly, I thought he had a great year for us."
Owens teamed with three first-ballot Hall-of-Famers headlined by his fellow diva game-breaker in Randy Moss and the two dominant middle linebackers of the early 21st century in Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher.
They book-ended nicely with guard Jerry Kramer, one of the iconic names from the first two Super Bowls in the late '60s as the Packers Pro Bowl guard. Rounding out the class of eight are Kramer's fellow Senior candidate Robert Brazille, the Oilers' trail-blazing linebacker, as well as versatile Eagles defensive back Brian Dawkins and personnel giant Bobby Beathard in the contributor category.
As recently as this week, Owens, 44, ripped the Hall selectors for not voting him into the Canton, Ohio shrine the last two years, his first of eligibility. Even though Owens ranks second to all-time leader Jerry Rice with 15,934 yards receiving and is third on the all-time touchdowns receiving list with 153 to only Rice and Moss, he had to overcome his reputation as a locker-room cancer that ran afoul of his own coaches and teammates.
But moments like his 25-yard touchdown catch on the last play to beat Green Bay in the 1999 postseason for the 49ers and his nine catches for 122 yards in the 2004 Super Bowl for the Eagles against New England less than two months after breaking his leg carried the day. Candidates needed 80 percent approval from the 47-member board of selectors of which Bengals.com belongs.
Owens had his moments in Cincinnati during an awful 10-game losing streak when he occasionally wondered aloud about the coaching, but it was pretty tame stuff in comparison to his past and the current state of the league.
"He had a tremendous career and a great year for us," said head coach Marvin Lewis Saturday night. "What he's done as a player it shows up in his stats. He was a producer. I've said he was better in person than he was coaching against him and he was a great player to coach against."
He was actually seen as a savior when the Bengals' major free agent acquisition of the 2010 offseason, wide receiver Antonio Bryant, blew up in the spring with a knee injury. They turned to Owens just hours before training camp, still trying to hook on for one last ride.
Owens was 36 and coming off a one-year run in Buffalo he showed flashes of his dominant self with 15.1 yards per on 55 catches. With Palmer and Chad Johnson urging a signing, Owens reported the night training camp opened at Georgetown College. He immediately helped bring in record crowds with Owens advertised as "Batman," and Johnson as "Robin," and he ended up eclipsing Johnson (67 catches for four TDs on 831 yards) on 72 catches for nine TDs on 983 yards.
Owens quietly played with a broken small bone in his left hand sustained in practice the last week of October and wore a two-inch pad under his glove. He didn't miss a game until the last two when he went on injured reserve for the only time in his 15 seasons with a torn meniscus in his knee. It kept him 17 yards away from becoming the first player to have a 1,000-yard season for four different teams.
"He had his own drinks and he had his own tights and all that stuff, but he did all those things so he could take care of his body and keep playing at a high level and he did," Whitworth said. "All I know is when it comes to the Hall of Fame it comes down to what you did on the field and the record you built and he certainly did that."
Lewis has a closer connection to Ray Lewis, the former Ravens middle linebacker. They arrived together in Baltimore in 1996 with Marvin Lewis as the new defensive coordinator and Ray Lewis as the 26th pick in the first round.
Together they helped grow the Ravens into an NFL record-setting defense during the 2000 season that rolled to the championship with Ray Lewis winning Defensive Player of the Year.
Saturday's news was no surprise to Marvin Lewis.
"We knew that," Marvin said of Ray's selection. "I'm happy, I'm excited for him. He's deserving. He was very instinctive. All he wanted to do was get better and make the people around him better."