The Michael Crabtree saga has finally come to an end, or has it? Is this the end of a story about a young man making wise business decisions? Or is this the beginning of a drama about a prima donna that will plague the National Football League for years to come? Only time will tell. To give a few clues however, let’s compare Michael Crabtree’s young career to two San Francisco 49ers receiving stars.
First let’s use our imagination to see how Jerry Rice would have handled Crabtree’s situation. Rice was picked by the 49ers with their 16th pick in the 1985 NFL draft. Jerry Rice is a very confident man. Anyone that can work to become the greatest receiver of all time has to have already convinced himself he is the greatest. What if Jerry Rice heard he had been drafted 16th but thought to himself “Al Toon was just drafted 10th and I know for a fact that I am going to be a better receiver then that guy. I should have been the first receiver drafted this year, not him. I deserve to be paid the same or more! I am not playing a single game until I get what I deserve.” Did Rice respond like that? Absolutely not! Jerry Rice is the epitome of a team player. He also knew that his skills would lead to bigger paychecks down the line. He put in his time, stayed quiet, constantly worked to improve his game, and therefore was rewarded not just monetarily, but with wins and records and rings and fame.
Now let’s take Terrell Owens. He was drafted in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft as the 89th pick. What we now know of Owens is that he is self consumed, egotistical, and selfish. With Owens skill set, size, and strength he no doubt thought he was much better than the 89th pick. Owens was a pioneer of the remarkably fast and strong wide receiver. There weren’t any wide receivers in the league that had his physique and therefore he could have justified in his mind that he was due money comparable to Keyshawn Johnson or Marvin Harrison (both chosen in the first round). Did he hold out through the first four games of the 96 season? Of course not! Owens didn’t get greedy until he proved himself on the field. It wasn’t until he performed that he allowed the narcissistic side of his personality show in the media. Yet once that conceit set in it was there to stay. And since money and the façade of respect has become his driving force, he has not been a winner. Sure his teams can win a few games. Sure he can look good on a stat sheet. Sure he can still be dominant on the field. But when it comes to helping a team win a championship, he has no idea what to do. His mind has clouded by his own image.
That brings us back to Michael Crabtree. So far he has kept himself out of the off the field troubles. So far he hasn’t given the media sound bites that would immediately gloss him as the next arrogant receiver. So far his public image has stayed amazingly intact. Yet his actions say otherwise.
Right now if we were to determine whose footsteps Crabtree is walking in we would have to say Terrell Owens. Any young player who thinks that they deserve compensation for doing absolutely nothing is already starting off down a dangerous path. Dangerous because haughtiness doesn’t soon go away. Dangerous because life can be a true disappointment when you walk around with an unfounded sense of entitlement. Dangerous because self-centeredness does not lead wins, records, rings, and fame. Ultimately pride will cost a player money.
Michael Crabtree has had an ominous beginning to a potentially good career. Will he do the 49ers, the NFL, and himself a favor by emulating Jerry Rice from here on out? Or will he go down in infamy by clinging to the example of Terrell Owens? Only time will tell.