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To prove that truth is stranger than fiction, Terrell Eldorado Owens entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame before he entered the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted him Monday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

To prove that truth is sometimes way stranger than fiction, he delivered induction speeches for each hall in the Scenic City — his decision last summer to make his speech inside McKenzie Arena instead of in Canton, Ohio, as is customary, believed to be the first time any Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee has boycotted the official ceremony.

That doesn't mean Owens turned his back on the few trappings the pro football folks present their inductees.

"All you get is a gold jacket, a bust and a ring," said the man who has the third most touchdown catches in NFL history with 153. "We probably do more for the Hall of Fame than they do for us."

Yet he proudly wore the massive ring to the Convention Center. He keeps the jacket in a closet in his home and he was hoping to give a copy of the bronze bust to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for which he played from 1992 through 1995.

"But they only give you one duplicate bust," he said. "So I'm keeping my duplicate."

However, in a lengthy and generous interview session with local media before the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame festivities began, Owens did say he would love to give of his time to his collegiate alma mater if UTC thinks he could help boost attendance.

"I've talked to (UTC athletic director) Mark Wharton," Owens said. "Whatever they need to get from me to help. I'm here to help."

Owens added that he previously has talked to students.

"I've tried to get the student body more involved," he said. "I'd like to see more fan support here. If we could just fill (Finley) Stadium. Even 75 percent full would be great."

Owens vividly remembers the night a largely filled Chamberlain Field witnessed the performance that likely changed his life.

"October thirdd, 1993," he remembered instantly. "I think Marshall was the (Division I-AA) defending national champs. It was a warm, clear night, about 73 degrees. Kenyon Earl was our quarterback. I caught four touchdown passes and we won 33-31."

That got him noticed. So, probably, did UTC football coach Tommy West's decision to let Owens try out for the basketball Mocs.

"Buddy Nix (who signed Owens and coached him his freshman year) wouldn't let me play basketball," TO recalled. "But when Coach West came in, I asked him about going out for the team and he asked me, 'Can you play basketball? If you can make our basketball team, that will tell people what kind of athlete you are.'"

Owens made the team for three seasons.

Asked who was tougher on him, UTC receivers coach Frankie DeBusk or UTC basketball coach Mack McCarthy, he thought for a moment and said, "Mack McCarthy."

Though Owens always has been quick to say "basketball was my passion" and "playing basketball was the best time I had on campus," his overall recollections of his time here were certainly spartan in nature.

"We were so poor I couldn't afford to go home in the summers," he said. "I ate Raman noodles three times a day. I got a key to the weightroom from a coach because I didn't have anything else to do."

Yet Owens' oft-cited three D's for success — desire, dedication and discipline — obviously served him well, leading to a 15-year NFL career that included being a five-time first-team All-Pro, all those TD grabs and a single Super Bowl appearance with the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost to, who else, the New England Patriots.

Not surprisingly, despite that defeat, that was also his favorite pro football moment.

Now 45, Owens says he has no desire to make a final run at playing pro football, as Dallas Cowboys tight end and University of Tennessee great Jason Witten did by announcing that he's leaving Monday Night Football to return to the playing field.

Nor does he want to try his hand at coaching, though he's happy to see former Mocs teammate Rusty Wright take over the UTC football program.

"Rusty was always a hard worker, and you see what it's gotten him," said Owens, who was wearing a UTC "Power C" lapel pin.

And he was clearly proud of his Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame induction.

"They're all special," he said. "I would say I've never received a lot of honors throughout my career. I was never that guy when I was growing up who was winning awards. I'm definitely honored, grateful, beyond blessed. This is where it all started. This is my home away from home."

But just in case you think the flamboyant T.O. is a thing of the past, when he was asked about his Pro Football Hall of Fame bronze bust, he recalled going to Utah to meet with sculptor Blair Buswell.

"His job was easy," Owens said with a grin, "since I'm handsome."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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