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

I met L.C. “Tit” Russell at his home, sitting on that same sofa. Behind him a copy of Terrell’s old 49ers jersey hung framed on a wall. Below it a silver-haired lady sat with her feet up, resting after knee surgery. She watched television.

“Aw yeah, we’re so proud of Terrell,” Tit said. “I follow all the games, you know.” He stretched out the vowels, sliding them out of a sly grin: “Youu knoooww.”

He stood up to go find a shirt. Even in his early 60s, Russell moved like a cat through the house. He cut a trim figure, compact, a premonition of Terrell’s sleekness. The hardwood floor hardly creaked under his weight.

When he returned, I asked how he lived so many years without acknowledging his son across the street. “Well, you know,” he said. But I didn’t.

“Well, I was a married man, and it was kind of a thing between me and Terrell’s mom, you know,” he said.

An affair? He was in his 30s at the time; Marilyn was 16.

“Yeah, that’s right. So we kept it sort of secret.”

But what did Terrell say when he found out?

“What could he say? You know. He just sat there quietly.”

I sat quietly, too. I watched the woman in the corner. She watched television. The front door sat open, and from the right angle I could see Terrell’s old house across Emerson Street, reflected in the hardwood floor.

When I talked with Felicia, she remembered that revelatory day in the living room. “Yeah, we were hurt,” she said. “Terrell had a crush on me. I remember saying, ‘He ain’t no brother a’mine. He ain’t no brother a’mine.’ We couldn’t understand. We were just children.”

I asked Russell: Is that woman, there in the corner, the same woman he was married to at the time of the affair?

“Yeah, that’s my wife.”

The woman turned and gave a little wave, from beneath Terrell’s No. 81.

I whispered: But is it painful for her to hear us talk about this?

He gave the sly grin. “Well, you know how life is.”

It’s well known in Alex City that Terrell bought his mother a big brick house in the swanky Indian Hills neighborhood. I asked Russell if it bothers him that his son didn’t do something similar for him. He didn’t hesitate. “Yes it does,” he said. “It does. But, well. You know.”

This time I did know. The father had denied the son during his most dependent years. The son learned well.