NFL

Terrell Owens Became Dallas Cowboys Fans’ Public Enemy No. 1 20 Years Ago

Even setting aside the day he infuriated Dallas Cowboys fans, now-retired NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens sure knew how to celebrate scoring a touchdown. Remember, he’s the guy who broke out a Sharpie pen to autograph the ball in 2002 and the player who hopped into the Salvation Army kettle in 2006.

But it was his two celebrations at Texas Stadium on Sept. 24, 2000, that set off more fireworks than all his other antics combined. Twenty years later, the day remains memorable for football fans.

Terrell Owens desecrated the Dallas Star at Texas Stadium

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The oil well was running dry for the Dallas Cowboys early in the 2000 NFL season. America’s Team had limped into the playoffs – their eighth appearance in the postseason in nine years — with an 8-8 record the previous season, and the Cowboys were heading to the first of three straight 5-11 finishes.

Terrell Owens apparently missed the lecture on not kicking someone when they’re down when the receiver and the rest of the San Francisco 49ers stomped the Cowboys, 41-24, on Sept. 24, 2000. The loss dropped Dallas to 1-3 to start the season, and Cowboys fans were in no mood to put up with seeing their team humiliated.

Terrell Owens went there anyway. Owens and Jerry Rice each caught two touchdown passes from Jeff Garcia, but only one of the two receivers knew how to celebrate with dignity.

And that receiver wasn’t Owens.

Owens raced from the end zone to the Dallas Star in the middle of Texas Stadium, held the ball high, and looked skyward — seemingly asking the crowd to acknowledge his greatness.

Later, Owens would say sit wasn’t a taunt. Rather, he was looking skyward to God, who Cowboys fans would often argue – jokingly, we think – that God always looked down on their team through the hole in the stadium roof.

Owens got away with it the first time, but not the second.

Dueling touchdowns from Terrell Owens and Emmitt Smith

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Terrell Owens’ first of two touchdowns gave the San Francisco 49ers a 17-3 lead with 2:49 left in the first half. There was still an Owens-generated buzz in the stadium when the Cowboys answered with 1:42 to play on a 1-yard touchdown run by Emmitt Smith, who had a pointed response to what Owens had just done.

Smith raced to midfield, pulling off his helmet along the way, and faced the 49ers bench. He kneeled on the Dallas Star and slammed the ball defiantly to the turf. The home crowd roared its approval at the message: The Cowboys were back in this game. They were not going to tolerate showboating by an opposing player in Texas Stadium.

If only it were that simple.

Remember, this was a Cowboys team on the decline, and they were losing to a 49ers team that would only go 6-10 in 2000. Owens, meanwhile, was on his way to the first of three consecutive seasons with 90 or more catches.

Just 26 years old at the time, Owens would make 97 catches for 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns to earn the first of his first first-team All-Pro honors. On this day, he was not nearly done messing with the Cowboys and their fans.

“If you want it to be a battle, it’s gonna be a battle,” Owens said in A Football Life regarding Smith’s response. “OK, we’re at your house. I did it the first time, you did it (too). OK, well, stop me from doing it again.”

Another touchdown sets off fireworks in Dallas

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The game started to get away from the Dallas Cowboys in the second half. Jerry Rice made touchdown catches early in the third and fourth quarters to extend the San Francisco 49ers’ lead to 34-10. A Terrell Owens TD grab with 4:05 to go made the score 41-17 and set off the real fireworks at Texas Stadium.

Owens once again raced toward midfield and the Dallas Star logo. But what he didn’t know is that he had company. Eighth-year safety George Teague of the Cowboys had seen enough and started chasing Owens down.

As Owens got to the spot and bent down to defiantly slam the ball to the turf, Teague hit the receiver from the right side at full ramming speed to knock him to the ground. The Dallas crowd roared its approval.

Teague was ejected from the game, but Owens was not. The receiver did not go unscathed, however. Coach Steve Mariucci gave Owens a dressing down in the locker room afterward and suspended him for one game.

“This decision is based on how we intend to conduct ourselves,” Mariucci said. “It disturbs me when the integrity of the game is compromised in any way, shape or form.”

The kicker to the story is that Owens would go on to play for the Cowboys for three seasons beginning in 2006. He produced 235 catches, including 38 for scores, while earning his final All-Pro nod.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.