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The T.O. show coming to a sad end

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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Among this week’s most shockingly ignored developments was the alleged attempted suicide of Terrell Owens.

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The incident itself shouldn’t have come as much of a shock, as Owens is famously prone to spells of both tearful misery or exuberance. Who doubts himself more than an aging, out-of-work athlete coming off knee surgery? Besides, in Owens’ case, there are indications he had done it before. This was his second alleged attempted suicide; remember, he reportedly overdosed on hydrocodone in 2006. Still, I was struck by the relative silence that greeted the recent TMZ dispatch. After it became clear that Owens would live, the story’s faint half-life in the news cycle seemed the saddest development of all.

This wasn’t a ballplayer forced to acknowledge his mortality as an athlete. This was something more mundane, entirely predictable, almost contemptible in most people’s estimation. It’s like "Day of the Locust," circa 2011: the demise of yet another reality star.

Perhaps that’s the real shame here. Terrell Owens might have been the best that ever was. Instead, he gets to the finish line as the washed-up protagonist of “The T.O. Show.” Now that’s pathos.

Despite the protestations of his agent, another reality star named Drew Rosenhaus, there seems to be little interest in Owens. Curious. After all, it’s not as if he’s the only ballplayer coming off knee surgery. Even at 37, Owens enjoys a reputation for being freakishly fit. What’s more, his numbers from last year in Cincinnati didn’t suck: 983 reception yards in only 11 starts for the Bengals, more catches (72) than he had in either of his last two full seasons in Dallas. Still, outside of the aforementioned agent — who recently proclaimed “the NFL would fall apart without me” — the past decade’s most talked-about player generates no buzz. No one’s saying, “When T.O. comes back . . . " Except, perhaps, for T.O. himself.


It’s worth noting that Owens succeeded the best football player most people ever saw. It was a long time ago, 1996, before most Americans had cellphones or Internet access, when the 49ers drafted Owens out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. By the 2000 season, he was averaging better than 100 yards a game. Jerry Rice, by contrast, was averaging less than half that. Terrell Owens seemed to have done the impossible in San Francisco: make Rice expendable.

Rice went on to the Raiders, for whom he had several productive seasons. Owens became a celebrity or, perhaps I should say, a mega-celebrity, T.O. The sage football man, Bill Walsh, recognized the dilemma — Owens’, his and their team’s — during that 2000 season. That was the year Owens commanded national attention by celebrating himself on the Cowboys’ star at Texas Stadium. Walsh recommended Owens get psychiatric treatment.

“I was right in the middle of it, because I was running the organization,” Walsh told Nancy Gay, then with the San Francisco Chronicle and now Senior NFL Editor for FOXSports.com. “I did try to get him outside counseling but he refused. And there is no way you can obligate somebody to seek treatment.”

In other words, Walsh wasn’t surprised when news of the first overdose broke in 2006. Now I’m not a shrink, but I feel safe in saying you can’t be an NFL receiver — certainly not a great one — without a requisite level of narcissism. You want to call it the Diva Receiver Syndrome, fine. You don’t go over the middle without an abnormally high dose of vanity.

So why would you expect Owens to listen to Walsh, anyway? What made Owens a bad, high-maintenance teammate also made him a huge star. Owens was his own show long before the term “reality TV” became popular.

But here it is 2011, and the story is apparently ending — not on the field but with a report from TMZ. At this point, Owens has less in common with Jerry Rice than the starlets who sell the remnants of their star-crossed personal histories like carpet samples.

I emailed Owens’ handlers last week, before the suicide story broke, thinking he’d be a fascinating interview. She said he was turning down all media while getting back into shape.

Then I saw him fake his own retirement for Stephen A. Smith. T.O. said he’d be back in “a month or less.”

I don’t see it. But I’ll be rooting for him. I’d rather see him on the field than as another bust-out in “Celebrity Rehab.”
 

Tagged: Bengals, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens

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