Fan Interference
The Tragedy That Is T.O.
By Bob Plain
Nov 10, 2005

I want to apologize in advance for polluting cyberspace with yet another story about Terrell Owens.

By now, I would imagine you're just as sick of T.O. as I am. For the past week, it seems like the only letters that exist in the English language on sports talk radio and ESPN are "T" and "O." Each day these outlets have breathlessly reported the latest twist in this ridiculous soap opera. One day its T.O. ripping Donovan McNabb; the next, fighting injured teammate Hugh Douglas in a locker room brawl; then the inevitable conclusion, pathetically begging for a second chance after getting the boot from head coach Andy Reid.

These are developments that have only occurred this week. For well over a year, it has been impossible to escape the novella that is the Trials and Tribulations of T.O."

This is mostly the work of ESPN, which has never failed to turn the microphone over to Owens or his bombastic agent, Drew Rosenhaus. At every step of this saga, ESPN has been there to broadcast every single ridiculous chapter in this story. It seems like Terrell Owens was born to fill dead air.

Owens' recent actions, of course, have sparked a furor of righteous indignation. According to Jim Rome, Owens "is a cancer, no matter how much chemo and radiation you hit him with, you can't get rid of it."

Robert Smith, former Vikings running back and now ESPN analyst, called Owens a "coward."

Shouldn't these talking heads at least send Owens a fruit basket for giving them a chance to talk about a subject without the slightest pretense of subtlety or perspective? Owens is the Holy Grail for sports talk radio hosts: an unambiguously evil super villain.

The Eagles, for their part, just want to wash their hands of the matter. According to ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio, the Eagles are fully willing to pay out the rest of his salary if they lose a grievance motion. "We just want to get rid of him," Paolantonio quoted one Eagles insider to say.

So there you have it. Unless the NFL Players Association gets its way and the Eagles are forced to cut him, thereby making him available for a desperate/crazy team to sign him, Owens is done for the year. One of the more unpleasant sports stories in recent memory is finally over, at least temporarily. The sequel will assuredly resume next season when another sucker signs Owens, only to find itself in arrogant Star Wide Receiver Hell.

What's the point in wasting any more energy writing about this doofus? Owens, we can all agree, is a jerk. He poisoned both the 49ers and Eagles with his prima donna attitude. His relationships with his last two head coaches, Steve Mariucci and Andy Reid, have ended disastrously. The same goes for his last two quarterbacks, Jeff Garcia, who he hinted was gay, and Donovan McNabb, who he insulted for "getting tired in the Super Bowl."

Egotistical, absurdly self-important. The only good thing T.O. defenders have to say about the receiver is that he stays out of the police blotter: He doesn't deal drugs, beat up his girlfriends, or murder people, you know, standard off-season NFL hobbies. This lame defense reminds me of the old Chris Rock routine about the deadbeat who proudly proclaims, "I take care of my kids," only to be shouted down by Rock, screaming, "You're SUPPOSED to take care of your kids."

Well, you're not supposed to deal coke (cough, cough, Jamal Lewis) or murder people (cough, cough, Ray Lewis). Just because Owens isn't a violent thug doesn't mean he's a good person.

With that said, what is happening with Owens is, and I'm not being facetious, a real tragedy. Owens is easily the most physically gifted wide receiver I've ever seen. Even though he is basically a horrible human being, I find myself rooting for him every time I watch the Eagles play. No one that big and strong should be that fast. He's like a superhero on the field, a larger-than-life figure, who can make pro athletes look absolutely stupid. If Owens could only dial back the bombast by 10 percent, he would absolutely be worth the aggravation.

It's always painful to watch a gifted individual throw his life away and Owens is no exception. In addition to being kicked off his team, Owens has lost millions in potential endorsement deals. His career stats, his record of most completions in a game, and his courageous Super Bowl performance most likely would have made him a shoe-in for Canton. That dream is gone. The entire reason behind this whole mess, Owens' desire for more money, has blown up in his face.

Instead of long-term security, Owens, at best, will now be forced to sign a one-year, incentive laden deal. If he mouths off or looks at his coach the wrong way, he's gone. There's the possibility that no team will pick him up, that his career is essentially over.

Owens is a victim of his own worse impulses, a personality shaped by what was (by all accounts) a horrible childhood. Yeah, yeah, it's easy to be cynical and say "Waah, Daddy didn't love me; get over it, you big baby." Still, it's hard not to be moved by Owens' biography: According to, Owens was born to a 17-year-old alcoholic. Raised by his abusive grandmother, who also an alcoholic, he was whipped regularly and was not allowed to play with other children. One time his grandmother was so drunk that she burned up her purse — and all her money — in the oven.

At 12, Owens made friends with a girl who lived across the street. Her father warned Owens to stay away, telling him that the girl was actually his half-sister. That's how Owens learned who his father was.

This in no way excuses Owens' horrible behavior. It might, at least, shed some light into how truly dysfunctional Owens really is.

The best thing Owens could do for himself is to fire that ridiculous carnival barker Drew Rosenhaus and slam the door on all the sycophants who are whispering in his ear. He needs to stop taking calls from his biggest enabler, Michael Irvin, and check himself into therapy. Seriously. At the risk of sounding like an armchair psychologist, Owens needs a good three or four months to work out what are obviously deep-seated issues that are sabotaging his career.

It would be an absolute travesty if Owens' talent goes to waste. There is still hope for redemption if he undergoes an intense period of introspection and self-examination. It's still possible, although not likely, that he might emerge a better player, a better teammate, and a better person.

Who knows, perhaps Owens would welcome the idea. After all, there's nothing T.O. likes talking about more than T.O.

Fan Interference is biweekly sports column.

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