SI Vault
 
Hey, T.O. Are You Ready for Some Football?
KARL TARO GREENFELD
July 24, 2006
Terrell Owens is back--contrite (well, a little), happy and hungry to win a ring with the Cowboys. Believe him at your peril, hate him if you must, but don't ever question his desire
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 24, 2006

Hey, T.o. Are You Ready For Some Football?

Terrell Owens is back--contrite (well, a little), happy and hungry to win a ring with the Cowboys. Believe him at your peril, hate him if you must, but don't ever question his desire

View CoverRead All Articles

Terrell Owens whispers the numbers to himself. Ten. Eight. Ten. Eight. Ten decline oblique crunches. Then eight. Ten incline dumbbell presses. Then eight. Ten. Eight.... As he pushes himself through another of his grueling weight room sessions--decline sit-ups, hanging leg raises, hammer-strength lat pull-downs, dumbbell throws, hammer curls and a host of other lifts, curls, pulls and twists that have made Owens, in his trainer James (Buddy) Primm's words, "the world's largest ectomorph," he keeps working in sets of 10 and eight. "October 8--10/8. That's when we play Philadelphia," Owens explains between sets at the Ranch, a health club next to the Dallas Cowboys' training complex in Irving, Texas. "I'm not even gonna say that b.s. clich´┐Ż that it's just another game. It's already exciting, and we ain't even played a down yet." Owens smiles, and you expect a mischievous upturn of the lips, but instead he flashes a broad grin full of bright white teeth and uncomplicated joy. You anticipate villainy--years of bad press have had their effect--but what Owens shows right now is only satisfaction at joining the Cowboys and giddiness at the prospect of imminent revenge.

Terrell Owens might be the most universally reviled supremely talented athlete of his era (at least Barry Bonds is beloved in San Francisco), having assumed that mantle at some point during his four-month broken-field run through the sports news cycle last summer and fall. The controversial touchdown celebrations for which he became famous now seem quaint after his immolation of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2005 season. There were days last year when ESPN seemed to be TOPN, constantly airing interviews with Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, following his comings and goings from training camp and his meetings with coaches and team executives, Sal Paolantonio doing stand-ups in front of the Eagles' NovaCare Complex, looking as stern and concerned as if he were covering an unfolding hostage situation.

In a sense, that's precisely what it was: a star player holding a team hostage. Owens and Rosenhaus, of course, will lecture you on the unfairness of NFL contracts, asserting that the Eagles (who had signed Owens in March 2004 to a seven-year, $49 million contract, only $2.3 million of which was guaranteed) had no intention of paying Owens's $7 million roster bonus for 2006, and that T.O.'s cause--to ensure that he was one of the best-paid receivers in the league--was just. (Entering the 2005 season he wasn't even in the top 10 if signing bonuses are included.) But even if you take the position that in America a man has a right to demand as much cheddar as he wants, you have to wonder at the methods Owens used to make his case: being sent home for a week after feuding with his coach and offensive coordinator at training camp, then performing crunches in front of his New Jersey house on national television, was perhaps not the most persuasive negotiating strategy. And dissing his quarterback in an interview that ended up splashed all over ESPN was the surest way to lose those few remaining fans still in his camp.

It was almost enough to make you forget what Owens had accomplished on the field. Actually, it probably was enough to make you forget, so let's review: If T.O. had left the NovaCare Complex after his suspension by the Eagles in early November and never played again, you could easily make the case that he still belonged in the Hall of Fame: In 10 seasons he had 716 catches, more than 10,000 yards receiving and 101 touchdowns, fourth most in NFL history. Owens holds the single-game reception record (20, San Francisco versus Chicago, Dec. 17, 2000), was named to five straight Pro Bowls from 2000 to '04, turned in five straight 1,000-yard seasons and delivered riveting moments in big games: splitting two Packers for a game-winning touchdown catch in a January 1999 playoff game; coming back from a broken leg and sprained ankle to turn in an MVP-worthy performance in the 2004 Super Bowl. (And as any aficionado of Madden NFL will tell you, there has never been a better third-and-seven receiver in the history of computer games.)

Now he's a Cowboy. His off-season move from Philadelphia, which released him on March 14, to Dallas, with whom he signed a three-year, $25 million contract later that month, has made the Cowboys a fashionable preseason Super Bowl pick and Drew Bledsoe the happiest quarterback in Texas. Bledsoe believes that Owens's ability to draw double teams far outweighs his baggage. "What's past is past," says Bledsoe. "He's an explosive, powerful receiver who runs good routes and catches the ball well.... His impact is going to be felt not only in his production but also in the production of the other people on the field."

That sentiment was expressed more directly in the text message Bledsoe sent to Owens after their minicamp in May: "This year is gonna be sick."

Owens pulls up on a muggy Dallas afternoon in his gold Cadillac Escalade, wearing Croc sandals, black Jordan shorts, a black T-shirt and wire-frame shades, and walks in his surprisingly short, slightly pigeon-toed stride across the pavement to the front door of the Ranch, flipping open his Nokia phone and reading text messages as he goes. He is tight-end big--6'3", 226--but surprisingly compact, as if extra helpings of muscle, bone and sinew have been coiled into a too tightly wrapped package. The effect of this intricate overlaying of tendon and flesh is a kind of tension, like guitar strings strung too tight. Until he speaks, you're afraid to utter a word, for fear of rubbing those strings the wrong way.

He nods hello.

Later, Owens will explain that he has learned not to start conversations, because when he does, he's "misconstrued, misunderstood. People always making too much out of what I say, what I mean. You have to look at all of what I say." In his new book, T.O., he makes this point repeatedly, that in every interview--about Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb, coach Andy Reid and his situation with the Eagles--his comments were taken out of context. He insists that he would say 10 positive things about McNabb and the media would only print or air the one negative. And he says he has realized that once he starts talking, he has trouble stopping. "I tell the truth, I'm honest about how I feel," he says. His remedy? "Shut it down. Stop talking."

As he changes into his workout gear, he remains taciturn before explaining that he has found a better way to work through his feelings than venting into a reporter's microphone. He keeps a journal. Owens will grab whatever paper is handy--a takeout menu, a scrap of notebook paper, the back of an off-season conditioning guide--and begin scribbling. "Sometimes I'm asked questions," he says. "I won't answer them, but it later gets me thinking. I decided I had to make mental notes, and I started writing them down. Now more than ever, it helps me get my thoughts together, especially after this situation with the Eagles."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4