Get this: things have ended badly for a Texas football team that pinned its hopes and dreams on Terrell Owens.
“Bit of a scorpion and the frog vibe,” wrote ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano in reaction to the Allen Wranglers’ announcement that they were releasing “the most highly anticipated player in [Indoor Football League] history.”
Yep, they even called him that in the press release announcing they were dumping him.
The wide receiver had lived up to his billing on the turf, with ten touchdown catches in eight games for the suburban Dallas franchise. But team president and co-owner Tommy Benizio said there were other problems, particularly Owens’ failure to show up at a team appearance at a local children’s hospital.
Also at issue was Owens’ refusal to play in upcoming road games in Nebraska and Washington, though Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas reported in January that “Owens is only contractually obligated to play in home games, but he can also participate in some road games if he gets a portion of the merchandise sales and gate.”
But where the Wranglers’ press release really buries the lead is with its second-to-last line (as befits lead-burying), which says, “additionally, Owens will no longer participate as a team owner.”
When Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas first reported the Wranglers’ interest in T.O. on December 30, 2011, he wrote that Owens would earn a “a mid-six-figure contract” and an ownership stake of “likely 50 percent.”
According to McMahon, the Wranglers primary owner, Jon Frankel, also estimated that the franchise value of the Wranglers would be $5 million if Owens agreed to the deal.
“We want the media circus,” Wranglers GM Drew Pearson, the former Cowboy, said then.
In what is probably the most accurate measure of this story’s gravitas, it received wall-to-wall coverage on TMZ.com. TMZ reported that the team’s “buyout” of Owens’s ownership stake was $50, and that Owens released a statement implying that he might consider legal action.
One TMZ post, which was headlined “$50 Screw Job and BOOTED From House,” also said:
Sources close to T.O. tell TMZ the Allen Wranglers notified their star player, in writing, he had 48 hours to get out of the house they provided him — and to hand over the keys to the 2012 Jeep Cherokee they gave him to tool around the Texas town.
But here’s where it gets interesting. TMZ also interviewed an unnamed former Wranglers coach, who pointed out that T.O. had played in three home games since his no-show at the children’s hospital, and that in his opinion, the team simply couldn’t afford to pay Owens anymore. As TMZ wrote:
The coach thinks T.O. was the latest in a series of budget-related cuts on the Wranglers — a culling that included the coach himself, who was let go in March.
Eric R. Ivie of Yahoo! Sports noted that when Owens signed, the average IFL player received just $225 per game, plus a bonus for winning.
So signing Owens was a huge investment. And as it happens—not that we’re saying TMZ reported the wrong month or anything—the Wranglers actually fired their head coach, Pat Pimmell, on May 1, just after a two-game losing streak that dropped the team from 5-1 to 5-3. He has not been replaced, which de facto saves the team some money. (The Wranglers’ offensive coordinator and defensive coordinators, who are also the only other coaches, have run the show since then.)
The Wranglers reportedly drew 5,711 fans to T.O.’s first game in Allen, which, as Chris Chase of Yahoo!’s Shutdown Corner blog reported, was said to be more than the team had drawn for its entire 2011 home schedule. But all of the Wranglers’ official game reports on the IFL website for this season list the attendance for every home game as zero. That doesn’t mean nobody was there, but does suggest a lack of desire to say how many people were.
So, if the Owens signing simply wasn’t working in the way that it was meant to—as a marketing experiment—it’s entirely logical that the team would look for a way to end the relationship, which, from a public relations standpoint, is a lot easier to do with a player that the IFL itself called “perhaps the most polarizing figure in all of professional sports over the past decade.”
Yahoo!’s Ivie summed up the story from the perspective of someone who actually cares about arena football, even at its lower tiers:
…it nauseates me that the popular perception of indoor football as a joke is being perpetuated by one of the biggest clowns in all of football. And the Wranglers let it happen. They willingly brought the circus attraction to town, and now they’re paying the price.