TALKED TO TO's first college coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga, Buddy Nix, and Buddy won't help you. He's now personnel director for the Chargers, and all he'll say is, "I don't give interviews on TO. He don't talk about me, and I don't talk about him. I don't see any good that can come out of it."
Nix's silence speaks volumes, because the people in Chattanooga say that Buddy went through hell with TO. As a freshman, TO got into a locker room brawl and threatened to cut a teammate with a broken bottle. He also complained about playing time, and by the end of that year, Buddy—who'd been schooled under Bear Bryant—booted him off the team. "Owens was the same then as he is now," says a former UTC staff member.
But Buddy never tried to nurture a relationship. He knew TO was poor growing up in Alexander City, Ala. He'd been inside TO's wood-frame house. He'd seen how TO's grandmother allowed only one lamp in there, how it felt like a cave, how TO removed the lamp shade to get more light. But Buddy thought that was no excuse for being late to meetings and brandishing a bottle.
Buddy left UTC for the Bills after TO's freshman season, and they didn't see each other again until the 1996 Senior Bowl. Buddy showed up for the weigh-in, and every time he eyeballed TO, Owens dropped his head. Other NFL scouts saw Buddy sidle up to Owens and say, "I ain't ever gonna hurt you, son. Or say anything to hurt you. So quit dropping your eyes every time I look at you and get your ass up there and do the best you can."
But a seething TO never looked up or said a word. And that's what you can learn from Buddy Nix, Tuna. TO holds a grudge.