Love Me, Hate Me,
Just Don't Ignore Me

SPORTS


As you're planning your Super Bowl party this year, give a thought to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. He's out of work, out of money, and currently in court with all four of his baby mamas. And now for the part that really depresses him: For the first time in his long, checkered, and spectacular career, nobody wants to throw him the ball.

Terrell Owens doesn't want to bowl alone.

On a weekday night just before Thanksgiving, he's seated at a banquet-sized dining table in his three-bedroom Los Angeles condo, Real Wives of Whatever blaring on the flat-screen in the living room a few feet away. He looks at his phone, hoping for a text from the pals he's been trying to hook up with for weeks. He wants to meet at the lanes nearby for a few frames and some laughs, but it's looking bad again tonight. "People get busy, you know," he says. His lean legs twitch; the famously cut six-foot-three frame, still impossibly taut at almost 38, bends slightly back in the chair like a loaded catapult. He's wearing a hoodie and basketball shorts, and his earlobes glisten with the dime-sized diamond discs he's worn for years.

Bowling is his escape, one he wishes had been there for him on those sweaty teenage nights in the Alabama town where he grew up, skinny and unpopular, so dark-skinned that the other black kids razzed him nonstop, and later, to take the edge off marathon weight-lifting sessions at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He learned to bowl for a charity event early in his stint with the 49ers, and he hit the lanes whenever he could during the fifteen seasons he spent in the NFL, racking up stats that make him one of the greatest wide receivers in league history—second only to Jerry Rice in career receiving yards—and a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Bowling is chill, especially for a guy like him who never did like the clubs, never drank much or bothered with drugs. And a massive chill is what Owens—idle, adrift, desperate for cash, fending off rumors about his mental health—needs right now. Bad.

Since last spring, when the Cincinnati Bengals declined to renew his one-year, $2 million contract, Owens has been a man without a team, making him arguably football's most talented unemployed player. Plenty of teams could use a receiver of Owens's caliber, there's no question about that, but no one has made even a lowball offer. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has tried to drum up interest by hinting that some unnamed club is sniffing around, but nothing has materialized.

Which leaves T.O. a caged cat for the first time in his career, pacing the 1,800-square-foot apartment he paid $499,000 for in October 2010, circling the maroon and silver velvet chairs that a decorator helped him choose, stepping past the pile of dirty laundry in the long hall, picking at a pan of brown rice on the stove. He plays pickup basketball when he can—the game was his first love—and softball in a rec league run by Jamie Foxx, but that's not enough to keep his mind off things. Praying helps; he's taken to attending a local Presbyterian church, a world away from his Southern Baptist roots. "It's preppy. At the part where we say 'Amen,' they say 'Indeed.' "

Still, the season ticks by—Sunday, Monday, Sunday, Monday—every week a blur, all the way through December and into the playoffs, and the disbelief mounts.

They know they need me. Why don't they pick up the phone?