SOUTH PITTSBURG - Less than 24 hours after slipping on a gold jacket during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Terrell Owens slipped back into a pair of cleats and began the process of a potential comeback.
Owens was among a handful of hopefuls working out at South Pittsburg High School's Beene Stadium on Sunday afternoon for Chris Jones, the head coach and general manager of the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The 44-year old, 6-foot-3, 224-pound Owens, who has not played professionally since being cut by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks early in the 2012 preseason, ran pass routes for more than an hour with former Central Florida quarterback Justin Holman throwing and former South Carolina defensive back Rico McWilliams covering. Holman and McWilliams were working out with hopes of earning contract extensions.
"I know I'm truly blessed and I can still play the game," Owens said after the workout. "What I did out there today is just a small little snippet of what I can do. I just appreciate Coach for the opportunity. I guess he wanted to assess and see where I am physically.
"It's key when you're trying out to put your best foot forward, and I'm very pleased with what they saw and what I did out there. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame and come back and play, why not me? I know I can do it; it's just a matter of someone giving me the opportunity."
On Saturday afternoon, a crowd estimated at 3,000 filled the lower bowl of UTC's McKenzie Arena for Owens' unconventional induction ceremony as he became the Pro Football Hall of Fame's first living new inductee not to attend the traditional ceremony in Canton, Ohio. The school also announced it was naming a street on campus in his honor.
Sunday, with temperatures hovering around 92 degrees, Owens was back on a football field, running a variety of routes under the watchful eye of Jones, who had returned to his hometown during a bye week for the Roughriders.
"I wanted to see him run a lot of different routes and work him out for a while to test his stamina," Jones said. "I know he can still fly on the track, but I wanted to see if he could consistently run his routes or if he got tired. I have tryouts whenever it's possible so that former college and pro athletes have the chance to prove themselves and see if they can improve our team. But I've never been faced with anything like this. I mean, he's 44 years old but still runs a 4.4-second 40.
"An agent reached out to me to say that T.O. was interested in a tryout. I gave him the dates we would be available, and it just happened to work out that the timing was perfect for him since he was in Chattanooga for his ceremony. I told him it would be better to come here for the tryout because there wouldn't be the media frenzy that would be created if he crossed the border to work out in Canada."
Chris Jones sizes up what he saw from T.O.’s CFL workout today pic.twitter.com/tGvssTd6lG— Stephen Hargis (@StephenHargis) August 5, 2018
During a pro career that spanned 15 seasons and included stints with the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Owens amassed 15,934 receiving yards (second in NFL history) and 153 touchdowns (third in NFL history). He was a five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection, and his list of NFL records includes scoring at least two touchdowns against every team in the league.
The Hall of Famer created a buzz several weeks ago when a video was posted to social media showing him run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash during a workout with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, another All-Pro.
Chris Jones, a UTC graduate and former Mocs football player, has won four Grey Cup championships with four different CFL franchises, including as the head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. Shortly after that, he accepted an offer to become the head coach and GM with Saskatchewan and began turning around that franchise, taking the Roughriders from a three-win season the year before he took over to reaching the semifinals last season.
"I think Johnny Manziel found out last week just how tough the competition is in our league," Coach Jones said, referring to the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback's CFL debut with Montreal on Friday, when he threw four interceptions.
"This wasn't a publicity stunt. Terrell is in phenomenal shape and just wanted to see if he can still bring something to a professional football team."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.