Two scenes from one day at training camp paint conflicting pictures of a conflicted man. � Scene I: After a morning practice in early August, new Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens chafed at how often coach Andy Reid runs full-speed scrimmage drills during camp. That's how Reid, with the best record (46--18) in the NFL since the start of the 2000 season, runs his camp, but that doesn't mean Owens has to like it. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter had flattened Owens in one of those live sessions, leaving the wideout with an aching hip. "To go live, you risk key guys getting hurt--and I feel like I'm one of the key guys," Owens said, in remarks that would make headlines the next day. "In San Francisco, we never went live." � Scene II: After lunch Owens and roommate Donovan McNabb, the Pro Bowl quarterback, returned to their Lehigh University dorm suite to relax before the afternoon practice. McNabb fell into a couch to chat with a visitor. Owens, in street clothes, made a beeline for the middle of the living room and the slanted ab board that he had brought to camp. With his head positioned near the floor and his toes a good three feet higher at the other end of the board, the 6'3", 227-pound Owens did 10 crunches in about 15 seconds. "Just trying to get ready," he said, after he got back on his feet.
There is no way to underestimate the pressure on the two men in this room, particularly on Owens, who can be alternately maddening and charming. He's a chronic complainer. He's a workout machine. But most of all he's a perfect fit for a big-play-starved offense, as his 81-yard touchdown reception on the Eagles' first play from scrimmage in their second preseason game showed. He's a player who can get Philly over the hump and into the Super Bowl.
Here's why the Owens-McNabb partnership will succeed: The controversial Owens practically begged Reid for the chance to play in Philly, and he doesn't want to screw up this opportunity--especially when so many critics are waiting for him to do just that. Plus, this is McNabb's team, the way the Baltimore Ravens are Ray Lewis's, and you don't mess with McNabb's locker room. For his part McNabb wants to prove he can throw downfield, and for the first time in six years he's got one of the NFL's best deep threats.
Here's why the Owens-McNabb partnership will fail: Owens can be a hopeless me-first guy who in the midst of consecutive two-catch games might erupt in a coach's face on the sideline. He'll use the media to snipe at the play-calling or the quarterback's performance. (Never mind that he drops a lot of balls--18 last season.) Owens could become similarly frustrated with the Eagles because, for all his athleticism and leadership ability, McNabb is a below-average passer (57.0 career completion percentage) in a quarterback-friendly offense.
In top form, Owens and McNabb are two of the toughest competitors in the NFL, players who can turn a game around with one spectacular play. But it was made clear in the Eagles' three straight NFC Championship Game defeats, and in the Niners' inability to control their pass-catching man-child, that these two players ultimately need one another to get to the Super Bowl.
Whether they can coexist and thrive under the no-nonsense direction of Reid in an NFL-mad city is the most intriguing story heading into the 2004 season.
the situation in Philly is so much different for Owens than it was in San Francisco, where for most of his eight seasons he was star-caliber but couldn't hold a candle to the likes of Jerry Rice and Steve Young in the eyes of the 49ers faithful. In Philadelphia, Owens has already achieved a kind of rock-star status. A routine catch, with no coverage, was enough to make the large crowds at Eagles camp in Bethlehem, Pa., cheer wildly. "Fans believe he's here to make things all better," says Julie Dubin, the club's manager of community relations. One day Owens was doing an interview while about 500 autograph hounds stood about 50 yards away. After a half hour one man screamed, "We want T.O.! Share him! He's ours!"
These people don't care that two years ago Owens had the audacity to whip out a Sharpie during a nationally televised prime-time game and sign the ball he had just carried into the end zone. Or that more than once last season he publicly ripped his quarterback Jeff Garcia for, among other things, having a weak arm--and then suggested Garcia was homosexual in an interview that was published in the September issue of Playboy. Philly fans are ready to put Owens on the same pedestal as McNabb. And the quarterback seems willing to share the glory.
In August, NFL honeymoons look like they'll last forever, and as they lounged in their dorm suite, Owens and McNabb wanted to think only sweet thoughts. They reluctantly responded to grim hypothetical situations based on past incidents. For instance: So what happens, Owens was asked, if he goes a couple of weeks catching only two or three balls?
"Why do people say that?" McNabb said, cutting in. But before he could continue, Owens piped up.