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

After visiting Terrell’s mother for the last time, in late October, I boarded a flight back to Philadelphia, and stepping onto the plane, I felt admonished by her motherly protectiveness. She’s right, I thought: He never shot or stabbed anybody, never took steroids as far as we know, and never mistreated a fan. It’s just for fun.

Then, passing through first class on my way to coach, I heard the passenger behind me, a Philadelphian named Tom Morris, say, “Hey, good luck at the game.” He addressed Terrell Owens, third row, second seat.

I said, “Oh, hey Terrell.” He shot me — and Morris — a cold glare, then reached for his headphones.

We traipsed toward our seats in coach, in the back of the plane, fuming. “He’s being a jerk tonight,” Morris said. I agreed. But before I had buckled my safety belt, I heard the chatter start:

“That’s T.O. up there.”

“Yeah, I saw him.”

“Bum.”

“If I made 50 million bucks, I wouldn’t be whining.”

“Got that right.”

“He’s not talking to anybody, apparently.”

“Bum.”

Little wonder Owens didn’t want to talk. In his presence, people gushed, fawned, sought autographs, touched his shoulder gently. But at the back of the plane, they hauled out pitchforks and torches. Last year they loved him for his heroic Super Bowl performance, playing on a bad leg — his almighty resurrection! — but that happened last year. A lifetime ago.

His people have betrayed him, since then. Abandoned him. And in the mind of Terrell Owens — fatherless son, maker of signs and wonders, feeder of multitudes — it probably does feel like persecution.

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