Terrell Owens, an exceptional and polarizing player who loves the spotlight, might be ending his career in unceremonious darkness.
As originally reported by ESPN and confirmed by NFL Network's Michael Lombardi, the flamboyant and productive wide receiver recently had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. While ESPN's report states that Owens, a diligent caretaker of his body, could be back to operable health by November, it typically takes more than a year for any athlete to be fully functional after such a procedure.
Owens is 37. The road back gets even tougher when fighting an undefeated opponent -- age.
Owens wasn't going to be in high demand as things stand. Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Santana Moss and even Plaxico Burress seemed destined to generate more free-agent buzz than Owens. Now? Teams have an even stronger excuse to stay away than his potential to disrupt team chemistry.
Owens will be called damaged goods. It's cruel, especially for a guy we saw make one of the most courageous comebacks in 2005 when he rehabbed a broken leg to return and showcase himself (nine catches for 122 yards) in a losing effort with the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Still, according to the report, Owens was hurt while filming a reality TV show -- not working out or training with players at team organized workouts. If that's the case, how he was hurt could be just as damaging as the injury itself. Judgment is a huge buzzword in the NFL, and a guy putting his career in jeopardy doing anything other than football-related work isn't viewed well.
I'll never forget, in my time covering the Atlanta Falcons, when defensive tackle Rod Coleman, who was one of the best players at his position at the time, shredded his quadriceps while riding a Sea-Doo jet ski on the final day of the draft in 2007. It was a career-ending injury. He tried to come back, but there was too much damage, especially since he injured his knee while on the comeback trail.
It was a fluke accident, but Coleman was viewed by some as irresponsible. The same will happen with Owens. The fact that it's Owens also will prompt snickers because so many people aren't fond of him. I've never been big on anyone's demise for any reason, but it probably already has started.
One of the most painful things to happen to an athlete is having his career ended by injury. I've spoken to several who've had it happen, and it tortures most of them. Owens will feel the same, and he will work hard to try and go out on his own terms. Almost all athletes do, even though everyone but them knows it's futile.
Owens still had something to offer, even at his age. If he does make it back, it could forge a tale of redemption and write a better script to his final go as a player than any reality show. If he doesn't, perhaps time -- like the healer of his injury -- could be a salve to the memory of his career.
Owens' Hall of Fame numbers (1,078 receptions for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns) might one day be recognized more than the annoyances he caused so many and, eventually, he might have a bust in Canton. We just might have to wait a while to get our popcorn ready for that moment.