Comparing Terrell Owens and Ben Simmons After Returns to Philadelphia

Ben Simmons
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 05: Philadelphia 76ers Guard Ben Simmons (25) looks on during warmups before the Eastern Conference Semifinal Game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on May 05, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The Sixers have recently suffered an ugly divorce, parting ways with former first-round pick Ben Simmons in a messy fashion. They’re not the only team in Philadelphia to have experienced this, however, and they’re not the only one to experience a controversial return.

The best wide receiver ever to suit up for the Philadelphia Eagles also had the ugliest exit of any player in franchise history. Terrell Owens played less than two full seasons in midnight green, and the drama he caused will forever live in infamy in Philadelphia.

The return of Ben Simmons to the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night brought up memories of Owens in his well-publicized return to Lincoln Financial Field wearing the uniform of the arch-rival Dallas Cowboys on October 8, 2006.

Terrell Owens – from hero to villain

The trade for Owens in March 2004 became the most celebrated offseason acquisition in Philadelphia sports history. The former All-Pro joined a top-tier NFL team that had failed to capitalize on their window of championship opportunity in three consecutive losses in the NFC Championship Game.

Eagles fans flocked by the thousands to Lehigh University for training camp in August, overwhelming a small university not built for professional sports maniacs. The hype grew to new levels when Donovan McNabb hit his star wide receiver in a #81 jersey for an 81-yard touchdown in his first home preseason play from scrimmage.

Owens was everything the Eagles dreamt he could be in 2004. He filled the glaring void of a top wide receiver who McNabb could feed during the prime of his career. He helped the team steamroll their NFC competition to a 13-1 record and over 1200 yards in 14 regular-season games.

An unfortunate injury in Week 15 forced him to the sidelines while the Eagles earned their first Super Bowl bid in 24 years. Owens returned on the game’s top stage and caught nine passes for 122 yards in a heroic performance. The Eagles lost to the New England Patriots 24-21. 

Turn for the Worst in Philadelphia

Owens made a mockery of the Eagles, the NFL, and the sport of football after his excellent performance in 2004. First, he fired his long-time agent David Joseph in favor of the fiery Drew Rosenhaus to negotiate a new contract during the ensuing offseason. He was one year into a seven-year, $49 million deal at the time.

When the Eagles refused, he took his negotiating tactics to outrageously immature lengths with disruptive behavior at training camp in 2005. The absurd scene of Owens doing sit-ups in front of TV cameras in his driveway in South Jersey holds an eternal place in the memories of Eagles fans. 

Despite the circus Owens orchestrated, he ultimately suited up for the Eagles to begin the 2005 season. He was explosive as usual with 763 yards and six touchdowns in the first seven games, but the nonsense became too much. The organization, who collectively made several key mistakes along the way, suspended him for four games and deactivated him for the remainder of the season after the suspension ended.

The Eagles released the dynamic playmaker in March 2006 just less than two years after they acquired him.

Owens Returns with the Cowboys

Owens could’ve played for any other NFL team and elicited a furious reaction from the Philadelphia crowd in his first game back as an opponent in 2006. His choice to join the Cowboys only grew the intensity of the juicy narrative.

The 2-1 Cowboys hit the road with their new loudmouth superstar and came into the Linc for an NFC East clash in Week 5. The national media fixated on the grudge match. The buzz crept into every conversation throughout NFL circles.

McNabb, who took perhaps the most criticism of anyone during the “T.O. saga,” threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns in a glorious 38-24 victory for the Eagles. Owens only caught three passes for 45 yards on the afternoon.

Cornerback Lito Sheppard made the most memorable play of the day when he denied a Dallas comeback attempt in a seven-point game in the final minute with an interception and return for 102 yards and a touchdown to emphatically seal Philadelphia’s revenge.

Ben Simmons isn’t so different afterall

The Sixers plummeted hard in front of Ben Simmons on Thursday night in a 129-100 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. They should feel embarrassed after the flat performance. 

Philadelphia fans wanted to experience the same euphoria that existed at the Linc in 2006. They wanted to avenge the misery that an overly-hyped, self-centered athlete had caused them. They released the chorus of boos once again. The novelty t-shirts mocking Simmons came out just like they did for Owens.

The Sixers didn’t let them have their moment of glory. 

Of course, major differences exist between the two cases. After the loss with Dallas in 2006, T.O. showed at least somewhat of an understanding of the bigger picture.

“Even with all the boos, the chants, it didn’t bother me. The crowd, that’s the passion they have here in Philly. Actually, I thought it was going to be worse.”

-Terrell Owens

He showed his true colors as a tremendous competitor aside from the outrageous antics off the field. Ben Simmons, on the other hand, sat on the bench while the Nets dismantled the Sixers without his help.

The Eagles went on to win the NFC East in 2006. Owens spent three seasons in Dallas and went for over 1000 yards in each of them. However, he had a major hand in the Cowboys’ annual December swoons and never got to enjoy one of the few playoff victories the franchise has had during the 21st century. 

The Nets won this round of the grudge match in convincing fashion, but time will tell if Simmons himself actually gets the last laugh over the Sixers. The glaring difference between him and Owens is the competitive spirit. While T.O. built a reputation for his unrelenting work ethic, Simmons holds a weak attitude of entitlement.

Both Philadelphia villains selfishly imploded their respective teams, and only one of them got to celebrate a victory in his first return. However, the attitude and track record of Ben Simmons still falls drastically short in comparison to an outstanding athlete like Owens. Watching his new teammates win a regular-season game doesn’t change that.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire