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Getting to know the real T.O

Sitting down with Terrell Owens, one of the NFL's greatest, most polarizing players of all time.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to a Thuzio Executive Club event, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the always-entertaining Terrell Owens this past week. The Thuzio Executive Club is where members comprised of various business professionals have the unique opportunity to engage and network with fellow members while attending specially crafted dinner events. Thuzio features an expansive community of the highest-profile names in professional sports. They currently host events in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, while the Owens event served as their first in San Francisco as they continue to expand into new cities.

For those who are interested or think it might be something beneficial for their company, I highly recommend Thuzio after my inaugural experience on Monday. It was an unbelievable evening.

Onto the man of the hour...

Terrell Owens needs no introduction to football fans, especially 49ers fans. As a friend of mine put it, Owens is easily one of the most fascinating players of the past 50 years. I couldn't agree more. More interesting is what many don't see or know about Owens. The former perennial Pro-Bowler is the first to tell you that the light the media continually cast him in shouldn't be confused with who he really is as a person. In my brief experience with him, I'd have to agree or at least say that the Owens the media tried to portray doesn't tell the whole story.

Before the event's official Q&A session with Owens and KNBR's Larry Krueger, I had a few brief minutes to speak to Terrell. Towering over me and looking like he could still fight for a 3rd and 12 jump ball, Owens was gregarious and gracious in conversation. I asked him about what he's been doing with his time since he last played. He said first and foremost, he's been able to spend more time with his kids, which he's extremely happy about. He's also been pursuing some business ventures including fitness endeavors, a clothing line—Protoype 81—and a foray into home décor (bet you didn't peg T.O. to be the kind to pick out your drapes). He also heads his own youth foundation, "to motivate, to inspire, and to give back." Owens said that he was a late bloomer himself in terms of maturing and wants to give kids another level of support in addition to what they receive from their parents and teachers.

We then switched over to the game of football. I asked him if getting into the Hall of Fame was a big deal to him or if he was content to have his legacy on the field speak for his career. He agreed with the latter and noted that while the Hall of Fame would be an honor, he doesn't know how it will work out given the misconstrued characterization he received as a player. "My issues are no different than anyone else's," Owens said. "It should be about what you do on the field, but they [the media] always wanted to make me out to be a derelict. I never had any problems with the law or drugs. I always worked hard and it's unfortunate that's the way I've been portrayed." I asked if he still watches football and was somewhat surprised to learn that he doesn't follow too ardently. "Not too much, I watch some of the big games, the Super Bowl, of course, but just the big matchups."

We discussed the rule changes and how they've impacted the game since he left:
"I think it has changed the game a lot. On the positive side, it's improved player safety but with all the new rules and changes you're also seeing it impact the outcomes of games in a big way." He then pointed to the Dallas/Green Bay playoff game and Dez Bryant's catch as an example. "You also see it in the numbers that quarterbacks and wide receivers are putting up nowadays." I asked if he'd have had been even more productive in today's NFL (a no brainer). "Oh yeah, absolutely."

Then it was onto the Q&A with Larry Krueger, in which Owens provided some great entertainment and interesting insights.

On the Golden State Warriors playoff run:
"I think the Warriors have a great chance. Steph Curry is definitely worthy of an MVP. But you can't knock off the champs (the Spurs) until they're dethroned though, so it should be interesting."

On what NFL team he identifies with most:
"Well I started here in San Francisco, of course. But everywhere I played, whoever it was, when I put on that uniform I was fully committed to that team."

On which team he'd represent in the Hall of Fame:
"I have no idea right now, so we'll see."

On who he'd like to have introduce him in Canton:
"I'd like my wide receivers coach George Stewart to introduce me because he really got me as a player but, more importantly, as a person. I was often perceived by other players as aloof or standoffish early on in my career but that was just a product of me being shy and how I was raised by my grandmother in Alabama. We kind of kept to ourselves. George really understood me and brought out my confidence. Plus, I was working alongside Jerry Rice at the time. Jerry set the barometer. Once I got that confidence and tapped into Jerry's talent, the sky was the limit."

On his early days with Steve Young and Jerry Rice:
Owens talked about the impact Rice had on his career, even at an early age. He recalled changing his number in high school from #88 to #80 after watching Monday Night Football as a kid and seeing Rice dominate the opposition. He also discussed his upbringing in his grandmother's house in Alabama and how he was taught to address everyone formally as ma'am and sir. At the NFL level, Steve Young always got bugged out by it and he recalled Young retorting, "Dude, don't call me sir."

Conversation shifted back to his relationship with Jerry Rice; more specifically, Rice's final game against Chicago in which Owens broke the NFL record for most receptions in a game. The question was whether it was awkward since Rice, famously known as a fierce competitor, wasn't the star of the show. "There wasn't any awkwardness," stated Owens. "If he was livid I wasn't privy to any of that. I saw that game as a passing of the torch. When I broke the record, Jerry came up to me, hugged me, and said ‘This is your team now, you're going to do great things.' So that was a very big moment for me."

On which cornerback he respected most during his playing days and who he does in today's game:
"Aeneas Williams. Charles Woodson was great too but Aeneas—he had great size and great feet. When I played him, I could tell he really studied me and did his homework because he knew all the little things. As for today, I think you look at Revis and Sherman."

Getting candid on his tumultuous relationship with former Niners coach Steve Mariucci:
"Mooch came over to a well-stocked team; he didn't have to do too much. Things went sideways with us during my contract negotiations. He came out in the media and said that he didn't think I was worth the money I was seeking. I also saw that he was playing favorites."

On the side of Owens we don't know:
Krueger told the unknown story of a 49ers trainer during Owens playing days who was having a baby but was having trouble with some of the costs incurred. Without batting an eye, Owens happily gave the trainer over $10,000 to help him mitigate the financial burden. Krueger also recounted a story with former 49ers great Gary Plummer. Plummer's son had an accident with an air rifle, injuring his eye. The 49ers were playing the Saints that evening and Owens had a big night. Immediately after the game, he sent the game ball over to Plummer's son and gave both of them a call to make sure everything was alright.

On today's NFL:
"It's a great thing to ensure player safety but they're toying with the game at the same time. Players don't know how to play the game because they're taught a certain way their whole lives and now it goes against what you've been taught. You're seeing a lot more lower extremity injuries than before because guys don't wanna go high and get penalized or fined."

Would he let his kids play?
"Absolutely. You teach them to play safe. Injuries are a part of the game."

On his playing future:
One member noted the great shape Owens is in and asked if he'd play in 2015. "The Niners could use a wide receiver," the guy joked. "If you've got the connections, I'm always ready," Owens responded. "I constantly keep myself in shape and I continue to train with Antonio Cromartie. If anything comes up in the next year or so, I'd entertain it."