The San Francisco 49ers may no longer be among the powers of the National Football League, but the organization still ranks among the league leaders in class and dignity.
Niners coach Steve Mariucci on Monday suspended wide receiver Terrell Owens for one game and fined him a week's salary for his bush league antics in Sunday's victory over the Dallas Cowboys. After scoring a touchdown, Owens raced to midfield and placed the ball on the Cowboys star logo. Owens, apparently trying to embarrass the Cowboys, only succeeded in embarrassing himself.
From there, things got even more silly. Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith imitated Owens' antics. Then, when Owens repeated his juvenile act, Cowboys' safety George Teague followed him to the logo at midfield and, as Owens knelt down with the ball, Teague leveled him. Teague's actions didn't qualify him for a Rhodes scholarship, either.
Owens is the poster boy for what's wrong with professional football today. Too many players think they are more important than the game, that getting individual attention is the ultimate goal. How else can you explain players celebrating a tackle on a kickoff like it was the game-winning catch in the Super Bowl? Too often the game is secondary for these showboats, the real goal is getting noticed. If you can't do it by running, catching, blocking or tackling, do it by acting like a hyperactive child.
But that's football today. And it's why Mariucci's action was so unexpected - and welcome. Owens is not some bit player. He leads the Niners in receiving this season and has four touchdowns. For a team that's won only one of its first four games, that's a big loss. For a coach who's desperately trying to right a sinking ship, it's just a yard or two short of amazing.
Mariucci said it best: "This decision is based on how we intend to conduct ourselves. It disturbs me when the integrity of the game is compromised in any way, shape or form."