The Passion of T. O.

Everything you need to know about the spectacular rise and stunning fall of Terrell Owens can be found in a single place: the Alabama town where he was born

Sure, a lot of people hate Terrell Owens. They say he’s full of himself, self-aggrandized, strutting around the football field like he’s walking on water. But it’s not true, Owens says. He’s humble. He’s meek.

And after all, he reminds us, “People hated on Jesus.”

And there it is. So true, so revealing. Almost poetry. In four words he compares the suffering of the Prince of Peace with his own persecution at the hands of grumpy Philadelphia football fans. But the same four words reveal a naïveté so complete, it’s almost endearing. It makes you smile, like listening to a splayfooted puppy barking at the night.

His dual nature presents itself in turns, light then dark, left then right, lurching into the public arena like a man wearing two different-colored shoes. He carries his team to the Super Bowl, then claims a $49 million contract can’t quite support his family. He makes a glorious, career-record 91-yard touchdown catch, and then days later verbally slaps his team on national television. We love him, then we hate him. A few months ago, Owens traveled to Houston, where he visited displaced hurricane victims. He helped distribute clothing and supplies at a shelter. He posed for photos. He autographed footballs, hats, Holy Bibles, jerseys. He tossed a ball and —

Hold on a minute. He autographed Bibles?

It seems absurd at first. A mere man — although fast, and a good jumper — reaching for a pen, then reaching for a Bible. And then signing his name to the Book, as though he authored it. And we’re left to wonder: What gives this man the Messianic impulse? Whence comes this splendid creature? And who on earth, pray, does he think he is?

Perhaps no one on earth at all. His recent banishment — he might say betrayal — by his team seems inevitable when we examine his whole life. It fits a pattern: his early survival, his rise, and now his breathtaking downfall. It’s a life full of struggle and strife. And it begins, after all, with a sort of immaculate conception.

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