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SASS AND SUBSTANCE // Hardest hit steels Glenn still

The crack was about his toughness, really.

Terry Glenn was young, too young to be thrown into the middle of all this, and there he was. His coach had questioned his manhood. In fact, Bill Parcells had gone as far as to refer to him as "she." And just like that, a career changed for Glenn.

There were signs in the stands. "She's Doing All Right." There were the little digs by the defensive backs. There were the reports of how the owner's wife was upset with the coach over a politically incorrect comment. And in the middle of it all was the rookie.

Was he tough enough? Was there enough resilience inside Glenn to put the turmoil behind him and proceed with his career?

Oh, and one more question: Are you kidding?

If you want to know how tough Glenn is, you don't think about the football field. You don't think about a coach trying to play mind games with a rookie. You go back nine years and listen to the phone ring.

The call was about his toughness, really.

Terry Glenn was young, too young to be thrown into the middle of all this, and there he was. A telephone call had ushered in his manhood. And just like that, life changed for Terry Glenn.

He was at his Aunt Bay's house. His mother had been missing for three days. So when the phone rang, he listened as his aunt talked. The police had found a body in an abandoned building. They thought it was Donetta Glenn. The identification wasn't certain yet, but 13-year-old Terry knew. It was his mother.

His coach called him a girl. Big deal. When he was a boy, his life was ripped out from him. You want toughness? Try dealing with that.

His aunt hung up the phone, and Terry turned and walked away. He went into his room by himself. What would happen to him? Where would he go? The phone rang again. This time, the police were sure. A man named Kenneth Adams, obsessed with his mother, had gotten into an argument with her, had beaten her to death. Adams is now in prison.

"That's when I just lost it," Glenn says, his voice shaking. "I was devastated. I don't think you ever get over something like that. I know I didn't."

The pain is still in there. The anger, too. And the loneliness.

"Even now, there are times I'll just go off on my own," Glenn said. "Take a walk or a drive. And I'll cry. But it's good I can let it out like that."

Most of the time, Glenn will not talk about losing his mother. Wednesday, however, he did. Of how deep the hurt was, of how he sat and watched as his aunt broke the news to Dorothy, his younger sister, who was 7 at the time. Of how unwanted he felt as he was passed around from one aunt to another.

"It's tough to talk about," he said. "But it's something I have to do. I want other people to know my story, to feel like something good can come out of something bad. There may be a person with a similar situation, who needs to know he can come out of it."

It had never been easy for Terry Glenn. Donetta Glenn _ Niecie, they called her _ was on welfare, a single mother raising two children. Yet he remembers her as a warm, giving person who stressed his schoolwork. His neighborhood was a rough one, offering every bad choice you can imagine. Yet Glenn chose football. He has never seen his father, and as a child used to look at men on the bus to wonder if one of them might be. Yet he got used to that, too. "I don't want to talk to my father," he said. "I don't have anything to say to him, and he doesn't have anything to say to me."

How tough is he? Tough enough to make sure when he sold Coke, it was the kind you serve over ice. He used to go to Ohio State games as a vendor, only he would never sell much because he would watch the play instead. Tough enough to summon up the courage to ask a friend, June Henley, if he could spend a couple of nights at the Henley home. Only a couple of nights turned into eight years.

So was it supposed to be a big deal that Glenn found himself much of the debate between Parcells and Bob Kraft? Parcells wanted to draft a defensive player. No, Kraft said, and forced Glenn on him.

Turns out it was the biggest mistake Parcells ever almost made. Glenn has been a force from the onset, making a rookie-record 90 catches. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe calls him the biggest reason the Patriots are in the Super Bowl.

So he sits there and allows that, no, he is not like Dennis Rodman. No, he has never worn a wedding dress. No, there are no endorsement possibilities selling women's items.

The comment was about his toughness, really. Parcells was sending a message that Glenn had to prove he could take the pounding in this league. And the darnedest thing is that it worked. Glenn spent all season, he says, trying to prove himself to Parcells. Finally, in the 16th game of the year, his eyes locked with those of Parcells.

What he saw was acceptance. What he saw was acknowledgement.

Yep. The kid is tough enough.