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The O.W.E.N.S. syndrome: What’s the problem with NFL Wide Receivers?

June 16, 2009
Burress: Not that fussed about gun safety.

Burress: Not that fussed about gun safety.

For years, it seems that the highest-maintenance and most difficult-to-please players in the NFL have been wide receivers, and with recent developments in the Plaxico Burress, Donte’ Stallworth and Brandon Marshall stories, it doesn’t seem like a trend that is fading away any time soon. Receivers seem to always be making headlines, whether it’s T.E.O. (the E is for Eldorado) conjuring up yet another media firestorm or the seemingly endless parade of pass-catchers who yearly want to be traded.

Wideouts tend to suffer from inflated egos and distorted self-images (and in extreme cases, just being batshit crazy), along with the classic ‘I’m always open’ philosophy which means they need to get the ball. A lot.

I’m not heartlessly victimising a position in the NFL – your esteemed author used to play wide receiver in his playing days – but it seems that there are an endless number of ‘troubled’ wide receivers whose talent is often outweighed by their mouths or off-field problems.

In the ’90s the likes of Cris Carter and Michael Irvin were well-known as big trash-talkers and, although they are both HOF-quality players (seriously, Carter is a first-ballot player who’s been screwed thus far), their attitude is remembered just as often as their considerable achievements. Now, Outspoken Wideout Egotistical Nepotism Syndorme (appropriately acronymed to O.W.E.N.S.) is widespread and the NFL’s equivalent of a swine flu pandemic.

Marshall, Burress, Johnson/Ochocinco, Chris Henry et al are giving receivers a bad name – this is also a position with some consummate pros like Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne – but there seem to be more problematic wide receivers than any other position in the NFL. So why all the problems? We’ll look to diagnose the symptoms.

O.W.E.N.S. Symptom 1 – Realization/inflation of own talent

R Kelly hit The Worlds Greatest is the O.W.E.N.S. sufferers inspiration.

The O.W.E.N.S. sufferer's inspiration.


OK now this would seem like an obvious point for all NFL players, but wide receiver is a position in which to be exceptional you really have to be unbelievably talented. It seems that every year a late-round running back takes the league by storm or an unknown linebacker makes waves in the NFL, but at wide receiver, this doesn’t seem to be as common. For every Marques Colston we see come out of nowhere, there are 10 Mike Williamses who flame out when they’re expected to succeed.

It’s arguably the biggest boom-or-bust position in the league (except maybe 1st-round QBs), where a single mistake or dropped pass can cost your team the game. Thus when players like Owens, Boldin or Marshall ascend into the position’s upper echelon, they see themselves as above criticism and worthy of huge cash payouts – their self-image becomes distorted and this is the first step toward an O.W.E.N.S. meltdown.

O.W.E.N.S. Symptom 2 – Mo’ money mo’ money mo’ money

Take this down: Biggie. Was. Right.

Take this down: Biggie. Was. Right.

After the effects of the first symptom have taken hold, the patient begins to display an unstoppable level of greed. Anquan Boldin was irate about not being paid as well as Larry Fitzgerald and demanded a trade citing this problem. Fitzgerald (in a shocking buck of the O.W.E.N.S. trend) offered to restructure his own deal to get his teammate and friend more money. Whadda guy.

Some players, (case in point Chad Johnson) receive megabucks deals which in a few years are no longer at the top of the position, causing the player to try and welch on his deal after only a couple of years. Thus trade demands are issued (and normally totally ignored by the front office) and the player loses any popularity he still had with the fans.

O.W.E.N.S. Symptom 3 – GIVE ME THE BALL

This can often coincide with either of the first 2 symptoms, as the patient becomes so utterly full of themselves that they demand the ball from their QB, whether it’s feasible or not. The very very well-publicised spat between Romo and Owens (he really sets the bar, doesn’t he?) about Jason Witten getting more looks than T.O. is an obvious example.

Wide receivers always tend to believe that they’re open at all times, thus when they’re not targeted 10 or more times (if they’re a no.1 wideout) per game, they become disgruntled, to the point where sometimes they very publicly berate the QB/OC for ignoring their ‘obvious’ talents.

O.W.E.N.S. Symptom 4 – Universally hated

After all the previous symptoms have been seen, the final (and often fatal) one comes into play – the hatred of not just rival fanbases, but the entire league. Johnson and Owens are now almost completely despised by all franchises and fans. They’ve painted themselves as money-grabbing egotists who just want the ball regardless of win tallies or team chemistry. When this final symptom is diagnosed, it’s time to let the receiver go and put him in your team’s past – he’s now likely to go out and party, causing off-field problems and, in some cases, self-shooting.

Just as there are a number of receivers who are suffering deeply from the symptoms of O.W.E.N.S., there are some guys – Fitzgerald, A.Johnson, C.Johnson, Marvin Harrison – who just keep their heads down and act like professionals. And to them we offer as much money and as many passes as we damn well please.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2010 2:25 am

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