By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Terrell Owens, who became famous for his outlandish and entertaining touchdown celebrations during his storied NFL career, feels rules intended to discourage such behavior prevented him from reaching his full marketing potential.
The Hall of Fame wide receiver tallied numerous excessive celebration penalties during a career that ended long before the National Football League in 2017 relaxed its rules on celebrations in a bid to allow players more room to have fun after making big plays.
Owens, who is third on the NFL's all-time list with 153 touchdown catches, said he can only dream of what could have been had he played under the league's current rules.
"There is money to be made all the way around," Owens told Reuters in an interview to promote his new HiStudios Original podcast with former NFL receiver Matthew Hatchette called "Getch'a Popcorn Ready with T.O. & Hatch."
"Just think about the touchdown celebrations. The fact that guys are being embraced for things that I was being heavily criticized and vilified for.
"And so that helps with their marketability, their branding and things of that nature, so there is a lot of money to be made just by self promotion where it was frowned upon when I was doing it."
The crackdown on touchdown celebrations that fans tend to enjoy had critics at the time saying NFL stood for "No Fun League."
Owens' reputation as an on-field entertainer began in 2000 when, as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, he celebrated a touchdown by running to midfield and standing on the Dallas Cowboys' blue star logo while looking skyward with outstretched arms. Dallas fans were not amused, though they later embraced him once he became one of their own.
The flamboyant wide receiver found many creative ways to celebrate touchdowns, whether pulling a Sharpie hidden in his sock to sign a game ball, dancing with cheerleaders or pouring a spectator's bucket of popcorn into his helmeted face.
Aside from his end zone antics, Owens proved to be a prolific receiver with great hands and a knack for making big plays during a career in which he played for five different teams from 1996-2010.
Despite finishing his career second in all-time receiving yards and eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards nine times over an 11-year span, Owens was not voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first two years of eligibility.
Owens, who commanded the spotlight for both his on-field achievements and his on- and off-field antics, is hardly the first Hall of Famer forced to wait multiple years before being elected. But he made no secret that he felt voters allowed perceptions about his character to overshadow his accomplishments.
"I deserved (to be elected sooner) based on my numbers and the product that everyone saw on the football field," said Owens, whose podcast will include topical discussions on sports and pop culture. "The voters went outside of the criteria in which guys are inducted."
When Owens, who played for San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati, was finally inducted in 2018 in his third eligible year, he protested by boycotting the enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. He has no regrets about the decision.
"Not at all. How can I regret or miss something that I've never experienced?" said Owens, the first living inductee to skip the ceremony.
"It's just like if you are dating a girl for a couple of weeks and then you break up or whatever and she says 'did you miss me?' How can you miss something that you don't even know?"
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Bill Berkrot)