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T.O. and the Big Dance

You'd think that the NCAA Tournament might distract Buffalo sports fans from the Terrell Owens frenzy. But I wouldn't think of it. In fact, this might be a good time to remind Bills fans that the newest Bill loves his hoops and actually played in the Big Dance.

That's right. T.O. was a walk-on for three seasons at Tennessee-Chattanooga in the mid-1990s. He was a seldom-used, 6-3 power forward. He got some action when the Mocs lost to UConn, 100-71, in the first round of the 1995 NCAA tourney in Salt Lake City. Mack McCarthy, the coach at the time, said TO joined the team as a sophomore because he heard the basketball players got more meal money than the football players. They used to call Owens "Meal Money" because of it.

Chattanooga, by the way, is a 16th seed in this year's tournament. The Mocs, who beat Niagara in the Dr. Pepper Classic, were the surprise winner of the Southern Conference tourney. So who do they play in the first round this year in the opening round of the West region (in Philadelphia)? Connecticut, of course.

Owens loved hoops so much he signed on with the Adirondack team of the USBL in 2002. He wasn't a star by any means, but he got into some games and contributed. TO earned between $200 and $500 to play minor-league basketball.  He took time off to participate at 49ers minicamps. His football employer, of course, wasn't that keen on seeing TO play hoops in his off time.

Steve Mullen, the assistant director of athletics at Erie Community College, was a PR man fresh out of college with the Adirondack team in '02. Mullen's phone rang off the wall in those days with requests from around the globe. Mullen says Owens could not have been nicer to deal with. 

"I can tell you this, he helped me out any time I asked," Mullen told me in an email. "After every game, we would put 20 minutes on the clock and the fans would come down and get autographs from the coaches and players. It was after his first game, and the coach (Mike Sanders, former NBA player) did not play him once. My boss and I were fuming. Figured he would be out the door that instant. After all, we wanted him there to sell tickets. Wouldn't you know, he was right out at that table signing autographs. If he was upset, it did not show. He said he understood. Coach wanted to win the game."

On the wall of Mullen's office at ECC, there's a framed copy of an article on Owens that ran in the Albany Times Union around that time.

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