He’s as potent as any receiver who’s ever graced the Gridiron, but his penchant for talking back to coaches and bad-mouthing his quarterbacks has made Terrell Owens a target for more than a few bullets from the press.
In the gym at his home in Atlanta, playing a sport he also loves— basketball— T.O. didn’t need anyone to throw him the ball. He passed it to himself and scored.
And some will tell you, that’s the trouble with T.O. He’s been portrayed as a selfish player who too often turns a team sport into a one-man show.
We talked to the 32-year-old perennial all-pro about his antics, his anger, and those all-world earrings.
Stone Phillips, Dateline: How big are those things?Terrell Owens: I think they’re about three karats each.Phillips: Are they real? Owens: Yeah, actually they are.Phillips: You know, figuring out what’s real and what’s not about you is not so easy for a lot of people.Owens: I think the people that know me—I’m a genuine, loving, caring person.Phillips: So, is it a put on? The bigger-than-life T.O. persona? Owens: No, not at all, it’s not a put on. It’s the fact that when I step on that field it’s almost like, you know, it’s like I’m a superhero. You go from a Clark Kent to a Superman.
T.O. talked of one “signature moment”: after scoring a touchdown, he took a pen out of his sock and autographed the ball for someone in the stands.
Phillips: The Sharpie?Owens: Just creativity.
Another golden oldie from T.O.’s T.D.hit parade—the pom pom dance.
Phillips: Getting in touch with your inner cheerleader?Owens: Right, my feminine side. (laughs)
And then there was his star-crossed celebration in Dallas. The second time he did it, an angry cowboy had had enough.
Phillips: The Dallas fans, the Dallas Cowboys infuriated by that. And it wound up getting you a suspension. It cost you $24,294. Owens: Rightfully so. You know, being that I was in their stadium. Phillips: Looking back on it, do you think it was unsportsmanlike?Owens: I will say it was a little bit excessive.
And of course, there was the “Desperate Housewife” debacle, that controversial pre-game skit on Monday Night football, where Owens was on the receiving end of a pass from a nearly naked Nicolette Sheridan.
Owens: It just so happens that I always find myself in the middle of something.
And when he does, Owens says he’s usually the one who catches the blame. And if he can’t help getting defensive, he says it goes back to his childhood, growing up as a “scrawny kid” in Alexander city, Alabama.
Owens: I harbor a lot of things from my childhood where I knew that as a kid I constantly got picked on. And I couldn’t really do anything about it.
Raised without a father, Owens says it was his mother, a mill worker, and his grandmother, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, who taught him to be strong.
Phillips: You describe your grandmother as tough, spirited and proud, the woman who saved you. Owens: I often think about her. Constantly, time and time again, I can hear her voice telling me, not to let people run over you because they will continue to do it if you allow them to.
In his new best-selling autobiography, T.O. replays his two tempestuous seasons with the Eagles, including his feud with the team’s star quarterback, Donovan McNabb. It’s a Philadelphia story that many involved would just as soon forget.
Phillips: One Philadelphia sports writer called you, a “no-class, no clue team-wrecker.”Owens: He doesn’t know me. How would he know that?Phillips: Where did the problems begin with Donovan McNabb?Owens: During the course of that 2004 season the fans made a chant for me, “TO, TO,” just to hear that stadium chant that..Phillips: You think it bothered him that you were getting so much attention?Owens: It had to. It had to. This was his team before I got there.
Whatever tension there was between the quarterback and receiver broke wide open after a play in this game, when Owens says McNabb was supposed to have thrown the ball to him, but didn’t.
Phillips: You come back to the huddle and you tell the quarterback, “I was open. Dude, you missed me.” Owens: That’s just part of being competitive. You know what I mean? Just to let him know, ok, I was open. And then when he responded the way he did with, you know—“Shut the +++ up,” it took me by surprise. Phillips: But if a quarterback said to, “I put the ball right in your hands. Dude, you dropped it.” Even if he didn’t say it aggressively, how would you react? Owens: I probably would react. Probably ready for the next one, but I wouldn’t curse him out.
T.O.’s troubles in Philadelphia were just beginning. The Eagles were on their way to the Superbowl when Owens suffered a serious leg injury.
He rehabbed relentlessly—working with trainers every day, sleeping every night in his own oxygen chamber to promote healing. Miraculously, he recovered in time to suit up for the Superbowl.
Despite playing with a metal plate and screws holding his ankle together, Owens had a spectacular game, even though Phildelphia lost.
That performance, capping an all-star season, led Owens to believe he deserved more than his 7-year, $49 million dollar contract was paying him. The Eagles disagreed. And when T.O. showed up for training that summer, he wasn’t a happy camper.
Phillips: So you came into camp. A few days go by and they send you home?Owens: Coach and I had an exchange of words. And he probably felt that I kind of like threatened his authority.Phillips: Talking back to him.Owens: Right.
Practice had just ended. Eagles head Coach Andy Reid told T.O. it was his turn to sign autographs. T.O. refused, insisting that he needed to go get treatment for a sore muscle.
Phillips: And so he told you to—“Shut your mouth and go out and do it”?Owens: Exactly. He told me to shut up.Phillips: And your response to him? What’d you say?Owens: My thing is—Phillips: What’d you say to him?Owens: He told me to shut up, and I told him back to shut up.Phillips: But he’s the boss. He’s the coach. Owens: So, just because he’s the coach, and I’m the player that excuses him?
During his seven-day cooling off period, T.O. staged work-outs on his driveway, while his agent worked the media.
The next week, Owens was back with the team. And despite the tensions, 2005 turned out to be another stellar season for him.
He became only the sixth player in NFL history to make 100 career touchdown receptions. He served it up to the fans, but felt slighted when the Eagles failed to acknowledge his milestone.
Owens: I just felt like it was a slap in my face really.
Then came the fight. Owens, who’d re-injured his ankle, says a former Eagle now serving as a team official, came into the locker room and was telling other players that Owens was faking his injury.
Phillips: And you reacted.Owens: Yeah, I did.Phillips: In the book, you say he took a swing at you.Owens: Right.Phillips: But you ducked. And then you hit him.Owens: Right. Yeah, and I kinda grabbed ‘em, and I kinda punched ‘em a little bit.Phillips: And then you were pulled apart—Owens: Right.Phillips: And then you write, “I stood in front of the whole team and furiously challenged anyone else who wanted a piece of me.”Owens: I did say that. It had kinda reached a boiling point. So, you know I spoke out of emotions.
Owens says, even though he didn’t start the fight, once again he got blamed.
Owens: They tried to make it seem like I’m the bad guy. “I’m constantly you know starting problems.” “I’m a team wrecker.” But nobody knew it wasn’t my fault.
Later that same day, Owens took a wrecking ball to whatever future he had left in Philadelphia. He told ESPN that the Eagles would be a better team if they had Brett Farve, the Green Bay Packer’s quarterback.
Phillips: How did you think Donavan McNab was gonna feel about that?Owens: At that point in time, I didn’t really think about it. Phillips: Can’t you see that’s a shot at him? Owens: No, I didn’t at that time. If I had to do it all over again, probably my answer would be different.
Owens later apologized , but it was too little, too late. The Eagles had already suspended him for the rest of the season, and fined him $800,000 dollars.
Although Owens and his agent challenged his suspension, an NFL arbitrator ruled in favor of the Eagles and three months later he was dismissed from the team. But T.O. wasn’t K.O.’d for long.
Within days, he was signed by Dallas to a 3-year $25 million deal. As he worked out this week in training camp, the question facing the cowboys is which Terrell Owens has shown up for the rodeo—the clown, the raging bull, or a new T.O.—who can finally get along.
Phillips: You say you want to become an MVP. The most valuable player, not the most vilified player. Is there any game plan? What do you feel like you wanna change about yourself?Owens: I guess for me, socially, kind of interact better with people. I have to make changes. I have to be mindful of what I say about someone that it may hurt that person’s feelings. Phillips: You know this book ends like a fairytale. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys flies into Atlanta on his private jet, whisks you off to your new home, and there are tears in your eyes you say, when he tells you that he wants to have a good, close, positive relationship with you.Owens: It meant a lot to me. Phillips: How is it gonna be different in Dallas? Owens: Just being more positive. I realize now that sometimes it is better to be a little more silent and more reserved. Phillips: You told the fans in Dallas, to grab their popcorn, come enjoy the show.Owens: That’s right. It’s gonna be a show.Phillips: Just maybe a little toned down.Owens: Right. But I’m gonna have a lot of fun.