Seven weeks before Super Bowl XXXIX, Owens broke his leg and and tore a ligament in his right ankle. The injury required surgery, and his doctor wouldn’t clear him to play against the Patriots back in 2005.
When the injury happened, Owens believed the Eagles could still get to the Super Bowl without him. “There’s no reason for the city of Philadelphia to get down because I’m not there,” he said, via the Washington Post. “Obviously, my presence will be missed, but we have the guys to get it done.”
Owens was right, but had no idea the impact he would later have.
Owens not only played, but played a lot, and well.
Owens was never going to be cleared to play in the game. It’s incredible that he even stepped on the field, but the volume in which he played is one of the more impressive parts of the game.
Out of 72 offensive snaps, Owens played in 62 of them. In those 62 snaps that he played, he caught nine passes for 122 yards on 14 targets, the most of any player in the game.
Randall Gay and Asante Samuel both had the opportunity to cover Owens during the game, and couldn’t believe how sharp he was.
Gay, who covered Owens for the majority of the first half, told ESPN after the game, “I don’t know what he was before the injury, but I’ll tell you, it was like he didn’t lose a step at all. I couldn’t be at the level he was playing.”
Samuel could tell Owens wasn’t 100 percent, though. “Some may [have] thought Owens was selfish, but he didn’t want to miss the stage of the Super Bowl for himself and his teammates. Sure, he wasn’t the same Owens. He didn’t have great explosiveness in his run. There were times that he appeared to be limping.”
He was the only one who knew he was going to play.
No one really expected Owens to play in the Super Bowl. Multiple medical experts even said that if he were to play and get hit in the leg the wrong way, it could end his career.
“Nobody in this room knew I was going to play this game,” Owens said after the game via ESPN. “Nobody knew but me.”
Owens also touched on the perception people had of him — that he was a diva, that he wanted the attention — throughout the situation.
“The media made it a situation to where they thought I was grandstanding, “ Owens said. “But like I told a lot of people. If [that was] Brett Favre, they would have called him a warrior. For me, they said I was selfish. If I’m selfish, I’m selfish because I want to help my team win.”
No matter what anyone believed in, Owens proved himself to be a great teammate. It was also a testament to how passionate he was about the game, to be willing to risk his career for a championship.
Though the Eagles lost, it’s an all-time performance by Owens.
There are not many games in any sport where a performance in a losing effort is remembered so fondly. Owens’ game on a broken leg is arguably the most memorable.
Owens didn’t get into the Hall of Fame in 2017, with some voters citing his antics and attitude. He’s a finalist again in 2018 and knows he belongs. On Good Morning NFL Owens said, “As far as my body of work, I constantly say it, it speaks for itself.”
Owens had a Hall of Fame performance on that Sunday in 2005. The Eagles didn’t get the win, but he also showed leadership during that game. When the Eagles were down 10, Owens told Donovan McNabb to relax.
“In a situation like that, there is no reason to panic,” Owens said, per ESPN’s John Clayton. “When you start to panic, you’re not in rhythm. Our offense is based on timing. I just wanted to be in the light because if I can do that, that’s a positive for Donovan. He was out there trying to make things happen.”
Owens did everything he could in his power to deliver a Super Bowl win to Philadelphia, even risking his career. You can’t ask for more than that from any player.