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Owens' Latest Signature Move

After his autographed ball stunt, 49er receiver avoids a fine, but not the wrath of Seahawks.

October 16, 2002|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The next time San Francisco's Terrell Owens pulls out a pen during a game, he also might need to produce his checkbook.

An NFL spokesman said Tuesday the league has no plan to fine Owens for his antics Monday in a 28-21 victory at Seattle -- the 49er receiver celebrated a touchdown catch by autographing the ball in the end zone with a black Sharpie pen pulled from his sock -- but the league will respond more harshly if it happens again.

"Some people saw it as humorous, others as taunting," spokesman Greg Aiello said. "If it happens again, the player who does it will receive an autographed letter from Gene Washington," the league's man in charge of levying fines.

Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren called the display "shameful" and "a dishonor to anybody who's played this game."

The incident happened in the fourth quarter when Owens scored the decisive touchdown on a 37-yard reception over Pro Bowl cornerback Shawn Springs. TV cameras caught Owens pulling the felt-tipped pen from his sock, signing the ball, and handing it to a spectator in a field-level suite belonging to Springs. It wasn't just a fan at random, but rather Greg Eastman, the financial advisor for both Owens and Springs.

"It's a T.O. thing," Owens explained. "My coach in college always said, 'Always shine brightest when the lights are on.' "

Springs got a kick out of the inside joke -- "It's something I'd do if I was a wideout" -- but he was in the clear minority among the Seahawks.

"He disrespected us in our own stadium," Seattle defensive lineman Chad Eaton said. "It goes to show you he has no class."

Fellow defensive tackle John Randle said, "It's embarrassing to us and embarrassing to the league. Things like that don't look good."

Lighten up, say the 49er players.

"That was tight," running back Kevan Barlow said with an approving smile.

Coach Steve Mariucci said he hadn't seen Owens signing the ball and learned about it when a reporter told him as they were walking off the field. Long after the game, Mariucci spotted a Sharpie lying in a hallway outside the locker room. He picked it up and examined it as if studying a moon rock.

"Is this it?" he asked. "Is this the one?"

Tuesday Mariucci defended Owens.

"It happens all the time where a guy will score a touchdown and go give it to his mom or girlfriend," Mariucci said. "There weren't any obscene gestures, there was no taunting toward the bench, or the crowd -- it was a friendly gesture to some mutual friend that they had. The only unusual thing was the Sharpie out of the sock."

The suite belonging to Springs is directly behind the end zone the 49ers were going for in the fourth quarter. When his team started heading that direction, Owens requested a pen from a 49er trainer and tucked it between his inner and outer socks.

"Are you sure he didn't find it in the corner of the end zone?" Mariucci asked, sounding more amused than irritated. "We don't teach that."

Despite being one of the best receivers in football, Owens has caused the 49ers plenty of headaches over the last few years. He embarrassed the organization by sprinting to the midfield star at Texas Stadium and dancing on it after scoring a touchdown against the Cowboys. After a loss to the Bears last season, he said Mariucci hadn't wanted to run up the score on his buddy, Chicago Coach Dick Jauron, and therefore had failed to put the game out of reach.

For most of 2001, Mariucci and Owens barely spoke. It got so bad that Owens asked the 49ers to put him on the expansion-draft list so he could play for the Houston Texans. Things didn't improve until April, when Mariucci flew to Atlanta and met Owens and his agent in an airport hotel. They talked for hours and ironed out their differences.

"I felt it was necessary, and it was worth doing," Mariucci said in August. "We had a productive discussion. We both got things off our chest that we've been carrying for too long. We needed that."

Apparently, it didn't completely clear the air. Owens has been critical of his teammates and coaches again this season. After a narrow victory over Washington, he said the 49ers lacked "killer instinct."

So his stunt Monday was not terribly surprising. But it did create instant bad blood with the Seahawks, new this season to the NFC West.

"To me, it's a slap in the face," Seattle linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "I'll be excited to play him again."

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