Now, at 38 and out of football, he's lonelier than ever, and running out of money. In a GQ profile, Owens comes across as wounded, broke and desperate. When people text him to ask where he is, he replies back: "I'm in hell."
But is it his own fault? That's the perennial debate on T.O., who had a heartbreaking childhood but continually pointed fingers at everyone but himself once he became an adult.
In the GQ story by Nancy Hass, Owens blames the media for not giving him a chance to rehab his injury, blames agent Drew Rosenhaus for not protecting him from a bad business arrangement, and -- perhaps most surprisingly -- blames a former team captain for his issues with former Philadelphia teammate Donovan McNabb.
Owens earned around $80 million during his NFL career, but has found himself in deep financial trouble, despite never spending lavishly. In the February edition of GQ, Owens admits to trusting the wrong people, who in turn cost him a lot of his fortune.
"It's not a matter of having lived too large -- he was never the type to stockpile Ferraris or build himself a compound; the flashiest car he ever drove was a Mercedes, and while he indeed racked up a few homes that cost as much as $4 million, the only crib he classifies as even mildly sick by pro-ball standards was the one he bought in Atlanta to live in during the Philly off-season.
The problem, he says, is that he's by nature too trusting, loyal to a fault, despite everyone's carping that he's selfish. It's the sad old stereotypical song of the up-from-nothing black athlete: He let other people take care of things."
Owens said financial advisers recommended by Rosenhaus lost much of his money in highly leveraged ventures, then houses and apartments he thought he could rent out in a worst case scenario became dead weight in a housing market collapse (none of the properties is particularly excessive, but total a yearly mortgage of about $750,000), and $2 million was lost in an Alabama entertainment complex investment. That venture turned out to be illegal, and also claimed former Redskins running back Clinton Portis as a victim.
"I hate myself for letting this happen," Owens told GQ. "I believed that they had my back when they said, 'You take care of the football, and we'll do the rest.' And in the end, they just basically stole from me."
Owens has also found himself friendless, thanks to a growing sense of distrust thanks to his many unfortunate dealings.
He never had many friends -- teammates never called him to party, he says, wrongly assuming that he was "too big" to socialize -- and now, "I don't have no friends. I don't want no friends. That's how I feel."
And on top of that, he's battling in court with four women to whom he pays a total of $44,600 a month in child support for his four children, ages 5 to 12.
"If there's anything I'm sorry about, it's getting involved with all that." He never actually dated any of the women, he says. One was a one-night stand, the others "repeat offenders." Owens, who has never been married, concedes he is "not a very good judge of character." Still, he "never suspected they were the types to do what they done in the past year."
When money became tighter, Owens had to reduce the amount he paid to each of the women, and three of them sued him. A warrant was issued for his arrest when he didn't show up for a court date with the mother of his oldest child, Tariq. Beyond that, the relationship he's maintained with the mothers and his children is tenuous, at best.
Now he is in court with all four women, whom he lumps together like one big bloodsucking blob. None of them are being fair, he says: "They know I'm not working; they know the deal." Although he never established regular visitation with any of the children through the courts, he says he sees the eldest three as much as he can when their mothers allow it. So bitter is his relationship with the mother of the youngest child, a son, that he has never met the boy.
As for McNabb, Owens stands by his decision not to mend fences with the former Eagles quarterback, whom Owens characterized as "tired" following the Eagles' 24-21 loss to
Owens tells GQ Trotter read through the statement and arrived at the portion regarding McNabb, who threw for 357 yards, but was picked off three times. Owens claims Trotter ripped off the bottom portion of the page and told Owens he didn't owe McNabb a thing.
"This is the team leader we're talking about," Owens tells GQ. "He told me not to do it."
Trotter calls Owens' account inaccurate, telling the magazine he was the one insisting Owens apologize.
Once again, T.O. stands alone.
Owens' career is defined as much by its theatrics than for its statistical body of work. His playing days ended last spring after his one-year, $2 million contract was not renewed by the
Owens has clearly moved on.
Some decisions, he admits, may have been handled differently now. But at this point of his life, he's not willing to look back.
"To say I regret anything would be a slap to my grandmother's face," Owens says, referring to the woman who raised him.
He concedes his only mistake in calling McNabb out was one of timing, admitting "I might not have said or done things at exactly the right moment."
To this day, Owens remains confident bordering on cocksure, convinced -- even with a medically repaired ACL -- that he is capable of the jaw-dropping playmaking ability of his youth. It's not his talent that keeps teams from calling, he insists, but instead a reputation cast onto him by the reporters he often held hostage.
"I think people change, but the media, they never allowed me to change," Owens says. "They never allowed me to be a better person."
Described in the GQ piece as a "caged cat" living in a spacious 1,800-square foot
He says he's never been diagnosed as clinically depressed but he's been "real down."
"I don't have no friends -- I don't want no friends," Owens says. "That's how I feel."
You can read the rest of the interview at GQ.com.
Written by: Jeff Arnold