Terrell Owens tells Jalen Rose he doubted he’d ever reach the NFL

You already know my good brother T.O. — but not like this.

The legendary, Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens needs no introduction. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler who was also named All-Pro five times throughout his 15 years in the National Football League. 

Plus, since retiring more than a decade ago, the mighty T.O. has parlayed his astronomical success into savvy entrepreneurship, with what he teased as a chic LA breakfast spot and a project with Amazon on the horizon.

But growing up in Alexander City, Alabama, Terrell never once thought he could be one of those busts in the line of greats memorialized in that Canton, Ohio, museum, he told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.”

Actually, T.O., known for his energy and celebrations in the pros, didn’t believe he was going anywhere major as a kid.

“I wasn’t a great athlete when I grew up and when I came out of high school even,” he told me. “I didn’t think I was a great athlete coming out of college. I never knew that I was going to eventually become a Hall of Famer. That was never really on my radar.”

Adolescence was a confusing time for the budding athlete. Terrell was raised mostly by his mom and grandmother and, until those years, he didn’t realize that his father had been living across the street with another family. 

Terrell was quick to admit that his home life affected his early playing days in psychological ways.

“My mom didn’t really know that I was going to become the athlete that I could,” T.O. said. “She didn’t come to games.”

That’s not to say that Terrell’s mom, and grandma for that matter, didn’t love him to death.

Actually, they ensured he stayed on the straight and narrow. T.O. says that’s a huge reason for his winning mindset — and successful avoidance of harmful habits — once he got to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and began playing at a higher level.

Jalen Rose and Terrell Owens talked about to the Hall of Fame football player doubted his own abilities at first.
The legend now known as T.O. talked about how he doubted his own abilities until a memorable college game.
Getty Images

“I just felt and thought and saw how smoking, drinking, all of that affects your ability,” the soon-to-be 49er said. “For me, I already knew I didn’t have the greatest ability anyway.”

While T.O. may have doubted himself throughout high school and even the start of college, things all changed sophomore year. He broke out against then-powerhouse and recent national champions Marshall University on what he described as a perfect night for football. 

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” T.O. said. “We beat them 33 to 31. I had all four touchdowns. That would be emergence, I guess, of my greatness, or into, you know, the stages of good to great. But again, at that time, I still had no idea that I had the ability to play at the next level.”

But that day came a few short years later in 1996, when San Fran drafted the fast man as a third-rounder. To this day, T.O. says he was a “science project” for how teams recruit and pick wideouts in modern-day NFL.

Playing under the shadow of 49er great Jerry Rice, Super Bowl champ and a fellow Hall of Famer, quickly turned to shine on Terrell’s own illustrious career.

Terrell Owens quickly filled the shoes of Jerry Rice.
Terrell quickly filled the shoes of Jerry Rice.
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“He was No. 1 — I started to consider myself No. 1-A,” T.O. said. “It wasn’t 2.”

Soon enough, T.O. was the one who defenses were designing double coverage for as he raked in touchdown after touchdown.

“In the passing of the torch … me trying to fill some very big shoes that Jerry Rice had [filled] for so many years,” the younger great said, “that was the emergence of my skill set, my talent … who I became.”

Fast forward a spell, and after T.O. was traded to the City of Brotherly Love, it was looking like he’d have a chance to play in his first ever Super Bowl.

But seven weeks before the big game, in late 2004, as Philly was making its mean playoff push, Terrell caught an absolutely terrible break against his future Dallas Cowboys squad — literally.

“I tore the ligaments in my ankle,” he said. “The next day after the game, I found out I had broken my fibula.”

But even that couldn’t keep Owens down. He successfully rehabbed the excruciating injury in time to battle — yet ultimately fall short to — Tom Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. 

Terrell Owens put his own contract at risk to play in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
T.O. put his own contract at risk to play in Super Bowl XXXIX.
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Most athletes would have needed about half a year to properly recoup. And Eagles trainers had their fears.

“I’m going to be around so many violent guys, [the training staff] would not medically clear me to play,” Terrell said. “So I had to sign a waiver declaring myself [able] to play in the Super Bowl.”

T.O. did so at the risk of becoming a liability to his own contract — purely for love of the game.

It’s moments like that that get you enshrined forever.

That’s part of the reason why Owens just went out to the University of Colorado to motivate “Coach Prime” Deion Sanders’ Pac-12 squad.

Jersey No. 81 is passing along his three D’s: desire, dedication and discipline — all of which he has shown on the way up from a self-doubting high schooler to a legend of the game.

“As I grew up, I wanted to separate myself. Elevation requires separation. I knew that I had to do something different in order to get on those levels,” T.O. said. 

“There’s great, and then there’s the level of greatness [even above most] athletes,” he added. “For myself, I’m proud to say that I’ve been spoken [about like] some of those people of greatness.”

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into a media personality. Rose executive-produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.