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LOS ANGELES -- Back in the day, Terrell Owens liked to prompt his followers with a missive that would become his catchphrase, alerting fans, opponents and pundits alike to an electrifying performance to come: "Get your popcorn ready."
It's been only four months since the prolific and often controversial wide receiver underwent ACL surgery, but Owens' fans may want to have his favorite snack food within arm's reach, anyway.
On Monday, Owens ran full-speed routes and caught several darn-near-impossible balls on a field at the Home Depot Center, home of the L.A. Galaxy. The workout -- which was conducted under the supervision of his trainers and captured by television cameras for his reality series, "The T.O. Show" -- was the free agent's warning shot to the league, signaling his almost game-ready progress following a surgery that, for many, is a career-ending procedure.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the injury left many questions unanswered when it was reported in late June: How and when did it happen? Did it occur during taping for "The T.O. Show"? Was the six-time Pro Bowler going to call it a career? Owens wasn't talking then, leaving his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to address the rumors.
He's talking now.
After the workout, Owens, 37, sat down with ESPN.com to answer questions about his injury and recovery (which will be documented in the third season of "The T.O. Show," premiering 9 p.m. ET Monday on VH1) and to forecast what may be the final chapter in one of the most storied careers in NFL history.
In the first season of "The T.O. Show," you were having fun, looking for a girl. In season 2, you were moving to Buffalo. The third season is shaping up to be a bit more dramatic, wouldn't you say?
The third season is probably going to be a shock to a lot of my fans and people who are wondering what's going to happen next with me. Obviously, there's been a lot going on since my departure from Buffalo. I played last year in Cincinnati, and I had high expectations that season, with the talent that was on that team. It was a bittersweet season for us. I had an OK season that didn't particularly end well, for the team and personally, with the torn meniscus toward the end of the season. With the news of that torn meniscus, I went into surgery in December and I rehabbed it for a few months. Obviously, everybody knows at this point that I had a torn ACL. I tweaked my knee. Didn't really know what was going on. I got an MRI and then I got the worst news possible -- that I had a torn ACL. It's been that type of season, personally and physically. There's been a lot going on since my season in Cincinnati. I think everybody (through the show) will get a sense of what's going on, from the end of that season to the point that I can get on a team this season. I think a lot of people think reality shows are scripted. I can't speak for other shows, but mine is pretty much authentic. That's why I signed on. With this third season, there's a lot of misfortune that's been going on, from a personal standpoint, and a physical and financial standpoint.
You look good out there. It's as if you suffered a little boo-boo, nothing more. What really happened?
[Laughs] I just tweaked me left knee. I don't know what happened. The knee swelled up and I ended up going in for an MRI and I got the unfortunate news that I had a torn ACL. The stage I'm at, 15 years in the NFL and with the lockout looming, nobody knew what to expect with the upcoming season. The doctors said the timetable was six to eight months, and up to a year, of rehab process. Obviously, they gave someone of my caliber a four-to-six-month window. Four months is very ambitious, and that's where I'm at now: four months and four or five days out from surgery. Talking with the doctors, going through my personal training in L.A. and in Pensacola, they stressed that I'm way ahead of schedule. I'm giving myself the timetable of maybe two or three weeks into the season that I'll be ready. That's giving myself a grace period, for setbacks. I'm rehabbing my butt off to get back on the field.
Let's get specific, because everyone wants to know: How and when, exactly, did the injury happen?
[Smiles] It really doesn't matter how it happened. All that matters is it did happen, and I had surgery. How it happened isn't going to factor in. It's nobody's business. The people who reported it, when they did report it, at the end of June, they said it had just happened. They were way off the mark. They were probably two months behind. At that point, I was a few months into rehab. And I've been working my butt off since then.
Was there a moment in this process where you thought, damn, this could be over?
I'll shoot you a bit of reality: Everybody knows I'm 37, 15 years in the league, and ACL injuries are career-ending. At that point, you have to weigh the pros and cons. I've always been realistic with myself, regardless of what somebody else thinks or expects. When I got the news of the injury and doctors told me the timetable, I'll be honest with you: I'm human, and doubt crept into my mind. Can I come back from this? Is this the end? At the same time, I've always relied on God. And I think this is the platform for me to tell everybody that God is good and, if you have faith, anything is possible. Don't matter that reporters sit up there and say, "He's done and he won't come back." They don't serve the same God that I do, or don't think the way I do. They said the same thing about my ankle injury in 2004 with Philly. No doctors gave me a chance to even be walking in three to four weeks, and I was playing in the Super Bowl in six or seven weeks.
No question, you're a famously quick healer. When you look around this league, and you see the rosters and depth charts at receiver, what type of production do you feel you can give a team this season?
[Smiles] I still feel like I can do the same thing that I did when I went into Buffalo. They said, "You're not going to be penciled in as our No. 1 guy. We have our No. 1 guy and our No. 2 guy." I'm like, alright, fine, I'll let my play do the speaking for me. They had Lee Evans there, but if you look at the end-of-the-year statistics, that'll tell you the tale [55 receptions, 829 yards, six TDs]. Then, I go to Cincinnati last year. Obviously, they had a great receiver there, Chad [Ochocinco]. I went into training camp a day after it started. I had only a month to grasp the offense. Again, look at the statistics -- and I missed two or three games [14 games, 72 receptions, 983 yards, nine TDs]. This is another challenge for me. Another opportunity to show people that age is nothing but a number. You can do anything you put your mind and body to. I don't allow naysayers to deter me from my goal.
Have you spoken to any teams or received any interest?
I haven't talked to any teams in particular. But I know my talents. Once I'm able to showcase that I'm able to run any route they want me to run, I'm sure the suitors will be there. At this time, I know there's a little window before the season starts, but I'm going to be smart about it. I'm not going to rush into it. But injuries are going to occur during the course of the season. Some receivers are going to go down. I'm going to prepare myself. I'll be ready when the time comes.
You saw what happened to your peer, Randy Moss, who's been put out to pasture by the league, so to speak. Is there any part of you that thinks, wow, that could happen to me?
I think his situation is far different than mine. For whatever reason, teams passed on Randy. And that was Randy's decision to retire. I talked to him afterwards, congratulated him for the years he put into this game and wished him well. I told him I'm going to try to get a couple of more years in, and he wished me well. I'm not worried about anybody putting me to pasture, putting me to bed. I think I can control when I walk away from the game.
Sam Alipour is a writer for ESPN the Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter.
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