WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Terrell Owens admits to being heartbroken by his reputation as a surly player concerned more about his statistics than winning.
The six-times All-Pro wide receiver, however, will not change a thing when he steps on the field for his new team, the Buffalo Bills.
“If you’re human, it’s going to bother you and a human is what I am,” the 35-year-old Owens said of his me-first public persona.
”The media can make me out to be the worst guy in the world, the worst team mate, they can make me out to be a guy who just can’t get it right for any team I’ve been on.
“But at the end of the day, I know who I am at heart. I don’t need to change a thing.”
Owens has been a lightning rod for controversy despite being one of the NFL’s dominant receivers since he entered the league in 1996 with the San Francisco 49ers.
He blames the media for many of his troubles, citing one occasion last season when he was caught on camera during a tantrum and blasted by broadcasters who said he was demanding the ball.
Owens, known to fans simply as ‘T.O.', says he was actually pleading with Dallas Cowboys coaches to provide more protection for his shell-shocked quarterback Tony Romo.
He said that several times during his career his fiery sideline temper had led broadcasters to erroneously believe he was clamoring for the offense to revolve around him.
”I don’t think the media is giving the audience the real me,“ he told Reuters in a recent interview. ”The fans are going to listen to what comes out of the commentators’ mouths and 99 percent of the time it’s going to be negative.
“The fans will watch the clip, listen to the commentators, and say: ‘Man, he’s terrible’. But I feel like I’ve been nothing but a great team mate to those guys in Dallas.”
Owens was released by the Cowboys earlier this month and snatched up three days later by the Bills, who signed him to a one-year, $6.5-million contract.
The receiver said he did not mind leaving Dallas, a high-profile club with the moniker ‘America’s Team’, for Buffalo, a 7-9 team in 2008 that plays in relative anonymity in upstate New York.
”For me, it’s not a matter of what city I go to, whether they have the popularity of the Dallas Cowboys or the following of Philadelphia or San Francisco. I am embracing a team and an organization.
”I wanted to go to a place where a team and team mates wanted me. No matter what uniform I‘m in, I‘m going to perform. The Bills jumped at the opportunity to get me to Buffalo.
“I‘m excited. I‘m going to embrace the city. I can’t wait to get in that uniform and start practicing. Sometimes it only takes a player or two to get a team over the hump.”
Owens hopes the early news coming out of the Bills’ off-season workout camp is not a sign of things to come. He skipped the voluntary program and it drew headlines.
“Everywhere I’ve been where there have been voluntary workouts, I’ve never gone into camp,” said Owens, whose conditioning has never been questioned.
”I’ve already had dialogue with coach Dick Jauron about those workouts. It’s voluntary. That’s an option for a player to be there or not be there.
“When I need to be there or the coaches want me there, then that’s when I‘m going to be there.”
Owens has spent much of his off-season raising money to help combat Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts his grandmother Alice Black. The 13-year NFL veteran speaks with anguish about the disease that has ravaged her mind since its onset in 1996.
He says that during tough times he “falls on the strength” of Black, who raised him.
”She said when I was a little kid there will be tough times in life,“ he said. ”You just have to face them head-on. There are going to be people that like you and there are going to be people who don’t like you.
“There’s going to be some jealousy, some envy. But over the years I’ve been able to remain strong and use her as my rock and my strength.”
Owens has rankled fans and opposing teams with his antics following many of his career 91 touchdowns. He has at times feuded with team mates, coaches and management.
But with 951 career receptions for more than 14,000 yards, few doubt that Owens is a gifted receiver, one of the best the game has seen. Despite his on-the-field brilliance, Owens’s previous stops in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas all ended abruptly.
Now it will be Buffalo’s turn to roll the dice when the season starts in September.
“Everywhere I’ve been I have been able to help teams win,” said Owens. “I like this situation. I can’t wait to see the guys. The sky’s the limit.”
Editing by Clare Fallon. To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org