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Super Bowl's war of words heats up

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2005

 

  Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donnovan McNabb answers questions after the team arrived at their hotel in Ponte Vedra, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005. The Eagles will practice here before next Sunday's Super Bowl. AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donnovan McNabb answers questions after the team arrived at their hotel in Ponte Vedra, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 30, 2005. The Eagles will practice here before next Sunday's Super Bowl.

AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Roll out the steel cage. Or maybe just invite Rodney Harrison and Freddie Mitchell to the ''Jerry Springer Show.''

The WWE-style rank-out feud between the New England safety and Philadelphia receiver has gotten pretty juicy. It's even overshadowing the Terrell Owens will-he-or-won't-he saga.

Anyone who thought the Patriots are too well-versed in this Super Bowl stuff and far too classy to get involved in a war of words with the Eagles a full week before the big game might need to think again.

The Patriots are angry about comments last week from Mitchell. The defending champions made it clear Sunday when they arrived in Jacksonville that they aren't about to ignore Mitchell dissing their secondary, particularly Harrison.

''When he says something like that,'' linebacker-lineman Willie McGinest said of Mitchell, ''he's disrespecting our whole defense. Not only Rodney, but me and Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel and all the rest of us.''

That Mitchell has been an underachieving backup for Terrell Owens hasn't escaped New England's notice. Owens, sidelined since Game 14 with torn ankle ligaments, probably deserves the spotlight as he attempts to get healthy enough to play next Sunday. He still hasn't practiced, but has been running and no longer has a limp.

Considering how the Patriots might be gunning for Mitchell in the game, maybe the Eagles need Owens more than ever.

But even if the All-Pro receiver returns — coach Andy Reid said he will be evaluated daily — he isn't likely to be a focal point of Philadelphia's offense. And he probably won't get nearly the attention from the Patriots during their media sessions as Mitchell will receive.

Or already has received.

''Maybe he was drinking before he started talking,'' Harrison said, ''because that was clearly a mistake. No one in this league would attack somebody a week before the Super Bowl.

''I'm not really surprised because you're always going to find one jerk out of the bunch, just like (Mike) Vanderjagt,'' added Harrison, who also verbally feuded with the Indianapolis kicker during the playoffs. ''You're always going to find one guy like that who wants some attention and wants to do something to try and stir up the emotions of the game.

''I don't need any extra motivation; I need something to calm me down.''

Hey, Rodney, there's still six days before you have to suit up.

For the veteran Patriots to dive headfirst into such a fray is almost astonishing. Many of the Eagles recognize that. Even though this is the team's first trip to the Super Bowl in 24 years, they came across Sunday as the more experienced, resolute bunch.

''They were meaningless comments,'' Donovan McNabb said. ''Freddie didn't mean anything by them. It's sad that people have to blow them up to make them into a story.

''Freddie apologized. If someone needs those comments to get up for a game like this, they don't need to be here. This is the Super Bowl, this is the ultimate.''

The ultimate what? It was hard to tell Sunday.

Maybe Mitchell, who was unavailable to the media on Sunday, will take this oral spat a step further when he does speak.

Asked if he would directly address Mitchell, Harrison responded sarcastically: ''What would I say? I don't have much to say. It's Freddie Mitchell.''

Mitchell could be a key figure during the game itself, when everyone hopefully will be paying attention to the actual play, not the wordy by-play. Even with its banged-up secondary, New England has shut down opponents, and if T.O. is MIA, Mitchell must produce to give Philadelphia a decent chance for its first NFL crown since 1960.

The Eagles acquired Owens to get them over the hump of three straight NFC title game losses. While they scaled that mountain, they did so without the injured Owens, whose main role was as a cheerleader.

While team doctors have not cleared Owens to be on the field next Sunday, he's making every effort to play. Reid and his staff have been close-mouthed — isn't that refreshing? — about Owens' potential availability.

New England has its own health issues, with both starting cornerbacks out, as they have been for months, and All-Pro DT Richard Seymour's status uncertain with a knee injury.

But the Patriots have treated those absences as a non-issue — at least until Mitchell insulted them.

''We have a pieced-together secondary,'' said Troy Brown, the receiver-kick returner turned cornerback. ''It's patchwork, but so what? It's a team sport. It doesn't matter if you know our name or not.''



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