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Now Playing: 'The T.O. Show'

November 13, 2005|Jim Litke | Associated Press

Two years after being forced by the NFL to pull the plug on its campy soap opera, "Playmakers," ESPN has finally managed to fill the hole in its programming schedule and get some revenge in the bargain.

It's a spin-off called, "The T.O. Show."

Tuesday's episode found the down-on-his-luck superstar in front of his house reading a three-minute apology that wasn't worth the lawn it was delivered on. That was followed by a 10-minute testimonial from agent Drew Rosenhaus -- what, Don King wasn't available? -- that was so twitchy you expected Owens' bodyguard to subdue him at any moment.

"Terrell is a great person!" the agent screamed at no one in particular. "I believe in him!"

(An aside: After all is said and done, here's hoping Rosenhaus donates his body to science. Think how much we could we learn about future generations by examining this guy's wiring. Or his tonsils, at the very least. But I digress.)

What Rosenhaus didn't believe in, unfortunately, was answering questions. For example, whether he gave Owens bad advice.

"Next question."

Or whether ESPN shared any responsibility for the mess Owens found himself in. Since August, when he and Rosenhaus began appearing on the network to press their contract demands, separately and together, they totaled enough face time to make even Dickie V blush.

"Next question."

On and on it went, through a half-dozen more "next questions" and at least that many "I'm not going to get into that." And then, there was this curious unsolicited bit near the end:

"I would also like to add, there have been erroneous reports about my relationship with Terrell, people questioning my loyalty to him. That is absurd!" Rosenhaus said, yelling yet again.

"I love this man! I am behind him 110 percent! I will do everything that I can possibly do to back him and support him, to see what's right, which is for him to play football. For the fans, for the people in this city, for his teammates, for the coaches. They deserve that! They deserve to have this man on the team."

A week ago, most of America would have agreed with that statement: either about the NFL in general, because Owens is such a transcendent talent that he deserved a showcase somewhere; or about Philadelphia in particular, because the Eagles knew T.O. was a cancer when they signed them and so deserved every disruption he's caused. Now those same people are not so sure.

Whatever goodwill Owens engendered by playing in the Super Bowl last February against a doctor's advice -- likely risking his career -- has long since been squandered. But that won't prevent him from finding work next season. It just won't be with the Eagles, no matter how much smoke Rosenhaus blew. And despite all the other rambling the agent did, he was spot on with this assessment:

"There are a lot of people in the NFL that respect him and appreciate him. Do not write him off."

Just as there were plenty of NBA suitors pursuing Latrell Sprewell after he tried to choke his coach, there will be NFL general managers lining up for the chance to rehabilitate T.O.

Speculators already point in the direction of the Falcons, Broncos and Vikings, just about anywhere, really, where a topflight receiver would come in handy. And then there's always the wayward "Boys Town" operation still being run by the Raiders in Oakland. And as Rosenhaus noted about his client, "He hasn't broken any rules. He hasn't broken any laws."

That makes Owens an easier sell for whatever GM has to introduce him at a news conference down the road. He's already going to come cheaply. And whatever aggravation he does sow still won't rise to the level of distress that Ray Lewis or Rae Carruth caused in Baltimore and Charlotte, respectively.

In fact, for all the attention he's garnered, Owens still hasn't done as much damage to the league's image as the lurid cruise on Lake Minnetonka by a still-unidentified crew of Vikings a few weeks ago, nor the arrests earlier this week of two Panthers cheerleaders after some alleged gymnastics in a bathroom stall.

It was episodes like those that the NFL didn't want to see on TV when it warned ESPN to ditch "Playmakers," or face the very real possibility of losing a place at the table in any future negotiations to televise the league's games. What the audience's unending appetite for T.O.'s long-running, reality-based show proves is that you don't always have to make this stuff up.

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