Picture: Ground zero for Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's has chipped away at the memory and finances of Orlando's Fred Odena, a 72-year-old former engineer and Marine. Experts estimate that as baby boomers age, the number of Alzheimer's patients in Florida will balloon, giving the state the second-largest population of Alzheimer's patients in the country. (George Skene/Orlando Sentinel / August 1, 2011)

Terrell Owens has a reputation: Diva, ego-maniac, a me-me-me guy.

Say what you will about him, but make sure to also include this undeniable label:

He is a fighter on the front lines of noble causes.

Owens began the good fight in his rookie season in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers in 1996, when his grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He has been relentless since then, stepping up as a celebrity advocate to try to find a cure for the disease, which affects more than 5 million people in the United States.

He has testified before Congress, worked with the national branch of the Alzheimer’s Association, raised money for the cause. Whatever it takes.

Which makes June 21 special. The Alzheimer’s Association has marked this on its calendar as “The Longest Day.” Teams across the world will honor their loved ones and friends impacted by the disease by participating in a sunrise-to-sunset relay event to raise funds for the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Owens does it to honor his grandmother, Alice Black, who died of the disease in 2012 after a long, slow journey into darkness. Alzheimer’s is a cruel beast:

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and arguably the most insidious. It is a devil that robs the spirit of those you love. I know this as fact. My dear mother died of the disease in 2009. She was 88.

It hurts, no more, no less, for anyone else.

Owens has first-hand experience. His grandmother was his main caregiver in a broken family. Owens did not meet his father until he was 11.

“Oh man she was very instrumental in how I am, how I grew up,” Owens told me Thursday on a layover in Detroit, on his way to Los Angeles. “Everybody grows up in different ways with different challenges, whether it’s growing up with just a mom or just a dad.

"Kids can grow up in the worst neighborhood. Kids can grow up in poverty. I’m not different. I had my own upbringing and challenges. It definitely doesn’t compare to anybody raised in a drug-infested neighborhood but there were challenges.

“She basically taught me right from wrong, how to respect adults. We went to church. I definitely have my spiritual faith for her. She pretty much told me if you want anything out of life, you have to work hard for it.”

Owens, 39, is now working hard to get back into the NFL after a long and illustrious career.

But this fight will continues long after his playing days.

Terrell Owens is a good man, fighting the good fight.

I am glad to have him as a teammate.

 To find out more about the disease, or if you want to participate in the Central Florida walk on Oct. 26 at Lake Eola, click here:

To find out more about Owens and his Alzheimer's-related events, click onto his web site:

George Diaz can be reached at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgediaz