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The fat man pounded on the door, and young Terry Glenn dragged himself out of bed and down the stairs. What does he want now? Why won't he just go away? Terry opened the door, and the fat man said, "Hey, kid. Your mother said I could come over. She here? Why don't you let me in?" Terry was 13, but he never had much of a chance to be a kid. He grew up fast in Columbus, Ohio. His mother was on welfare as far back as he can remember, and his father left when Terry was two. The bills didn't always get paid, which explains why his house rarely had heat or electricity. That's what he remembers most vividly about the nights the fat man knocked on the door: the cold, the dark, the rage.
Terry slammed the door in the fat man's face and felt his way back upstairs and into bed. "Damn fat man, lying to me like that," he says now, his anger still evident nine years later. "My mother didn't invite him over. She hated him, and so did I."
The next day Donetta Glenn gave her son a couple of dollars and sent him off to the mall with his friends. She told him to buy something for his little sister, Dorothy. Later that night Terry returned home to the dark duplex, but his mother was gone. He stayed in the house for a day before packing up his sister and going over to his aunt's place. From there his aunt called the police and reported Donetta missing. A day later Terry was watching TV when the phone rang, and his aunt answered. "Oh, God, no," she said, and Terry didn't need to hear anymore. He ran upstairs and collapsed in a corner, his sad little world coming down on top of him.
The police called back hours later and confirmed their suspicions: The body that had been found in an abandoned building was indeed that of Donetta Glenn. She had been killed on Oct. 8,1987, beaten to death by a casual acquaintance who had been stalking her. Terry didn't need a judge or jury to tell him who was responsible. He knew. The damn fat man. Kenneth Adams, now 33, was sentenced to 10 to 25 years after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Often separated from his sister, Terry bounced from one relative's home to another, carrying his considerable grief and rage to each new stop. Finally, a few months after Donetta's death, another aunt, unable to care for Terry, dropped him off at a state children's services agency. "That's when I knew I was all alone," Terry says.
He eventually was taken in by the parents of a friend and former football teammate, June Henley. "I used to have a family—you know, a real family, all together at Christmas, eating and drinking and watching TV," says Glenn. "But it all fell apart after my mother died. That guy didn't just kill her, he killed my whole family."
The last time he counted, Glenn says, 10 of his close friends and relatives had died since his mother's murder. Two of his cousins and an uncle were shot to death, and too many people in his world turned to drugs. "Crack came along and just destroyed people," he says. His life has mostly been a swirl of misery and pain, but now Glenn, a wideout with the New England Patriots, is in the Super Bowl. Now everyone is talking about how long and grueling the road to the Super Bowl can be. Glenn, though only a rookie, knows that better than anyone.
"People say, 'Can you believe it, you're going to the Super Bowl?' " says Glenn. "Hey, the whole thing is unbelievable to me. Sometimes I can't believe I'm still alive."
As you look out past the pine trees and across the pond from the third floor of Glenn's lavish contemporary home in Walpole, Mass., you can't help feeling that there is something right with this picture. He is a 22-year-old rookie with a six-year, $11.6 million contract, and it is impossible to begrudge him any of it. The next thing that comes easily to Glenn will be the first.
He walked on to the Ohio State football team as a freshman and cracked the starting lineup as a junior. When he was contemplating whether to declare for the NFL draft after a junior season in which he set school records for receiving yardage and touchdown passes, some warned that life in the NFL could be tough on an undersized (5'10", 184 pounds) wide receiver. Glenn just shook his head and moved on. How tough could it be? His upbringing left him with a cold-steel exterior and a distrust of anything positive. "He lives with the fear that anytime something good happens, something bad will follow," says his agent, Jimmy Gould. "That's why he never relishes victory for long. He's afraid if he does he'll be blindsided by another tragedy."
Glenn wears a small gold hoop in each ear and sports a gold chain with an enormous number-88 medallion that looks as if it belongs in the Michael Irvin collection. Still, there is no glitter beyond the gold, no gaudy air of self-importance about him.