"DID YOU read the DiMaggio book?" Andy Reid asked a visitor, early one morning during what was for the Eagles a fairly torturous training camp. "I learned quite a bit from that."
And what exactly did Philadelphia's coach pick up in Richard Ben Cramer's 2000 biography, Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life, that gave him insight into handling the irascible Terrell Owens and other players whose contract gripes made life at the Lehigh University camp a summer from hell?
"Holdouts, and contract disputes, in sports have been happening forever," Reid said. " DiMaggio had them his whole career. It seems no matter how much you pay great athletes, there's always some kind of problem. More money, more problems. And the more success [a team] has, the more money issues it's going to have. It goes back all the way to Babe Ruth."
The lesson? "Normally," Reid said, "things work themselves out. If you allow things to get chaotic, there will be chaos. If you don't, there won't be."
It should come as no surprise, then, that despite everything that happened in camp--including TO's one-week suspension for insubordination, running back Brian Westbrook's seven-day holdout and, on Sunday, the team's decision to sever ties with holdout defensive tackle Corey Simon by removing his franchise-player tag--nobody in the organization pushed the panic button. The problems started before camp, of course, when Owens announced that he wanted to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed in 2004. Then he took shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, calling him a hypocrite; injured his groin; and was sent home for arguing with Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Who knows how this soap opera will play out, but you can be sure that whether Owens plays 16 snaps or 16 games this season, Reid will have the Eagles focused and ready to play.
Reid and Childress have been taking long looks at three wide receivers who, given the uncertain status of Owens and the season-ending Achilles injury to Todd Pinkston during the first week of camp, may play major roles in the Philadelphia attack. Greg Lewis, Billy McMullen and Reggie Brown combined have three NFL starts and 27 receptions for 304 yards. The third-year veteran Lewis, a walk-on at Illinois who was signed as an undrafted free agent, has the best shot of starting among the three. McNabb likes that the 6-foot Lewis runs precise routes. A third-round draft choice in 2003, the 6'4" McMullen is a good target over the middle in three- and four-receiver sets, but he has to become more physical if he expects an expanded role. Brown, a 6'1" rookie second-round pick out of Georgia, became a fan favorite in camp because of his all-out style--though his head was spinning most days because the coaches had him learning all three receiver positions.
"Donovan will find them if they're open," Childress says. "In this offense he's going to go strictly by his progression, and we could be throwing to anyone based on what our personnel's going to be."
And what if the two offensive superstars, McNabb and Owens, still aren't speaking to each other when the season starts? Can a quarterback and a wide receiver click without communicating? "It's not The Dating Game," Reid says. "They'll be fine on the field. That's where our business is done."
Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, one of three Eagles who has been with Reid since the coach took over in 1999, says, "Andy does a great job of focusing on the here and now, and on football only. The only thing that matters is whether you can help the Eagles win games. That's why, even though I'm a veteran, I come to training camp with one thought--winning my job again."
Some inside the organization believe that McNabb would take great pleasure in winning it all this year without Owens. After all, Philly did reach the NFC Championship Game for three straight years before Owens arrived and finally got to the Super Bowl last year while Owens was still recovering from his broken leg. "I don't want to sound cocky," McNabb says, "but I'll have confidence to make the plays with whichever guys I have out there. I have a great feel for the guys I've been able to work with in the off-season [none of whom were Owens], and we're not going to let anything tear this team apart."