Sports views: T.O. remains a question mark for Philadelphia

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2005

Terrell Owens met with Andy Reid early Wednesday morning and apparently told the Philadelphia Eagles' coach that his heart and attitude were in the right place. Then he went out and practiced very well, demonstrating that maybe the T.O. sideshow is finally over.

Sorry, Eagles fans, but Owens remains very much a problem — for the team and, to a lesser extent, for the NFL. It's more likely than not that the insubordination and other unprofessional behavior that caused Reid to send him home last week will return — Reid knows as much and so do his teammates, especially the veterans.

''He was fine today. I would expect that,'' Reid said, leaving unsaid that tomorrow, the next day, or the day after that might not be so fine.

Brian Dawkins, the team's All-Pro safety, said it a little more directly.

''I don't know what will happen. I only know what happened today,'' Dawkins said. ''I can't tell you something won't happen before Game 5 or some other time.''

That is the shadow that hangs over the Eagles as they try to get back to another Super Bowl.

It's the same shadow that hung over the 49ers for a half-decade or more, over Steve Mariucci and his successor, Dennis Erickson. Owens was a malcontent in the Bay Area, just as he is a malcontent now, a magnificent player who wants everyone to bend to his needs, whatever they might be at the moment — and makes trouble if they don't.

The difference then was that he was on the West Coast, an environment that is much more laid back than Philadelphia, with its frenzied fans and frantic media. And he was playing for a team that was in decline, even in the years that it did make it to the postseason.

In this case, the problems have extended far beyond Philadelphia.

Peyton Manning, of all people, noticed it this week.

''I come back to my room at night and try to see a little Giants coverage, see how my brother is doing,'' he says. ''But I see all this stuff, fact or fiction with T.O., and I'm tired of it. It's nothing against T.O., but I would like to see a little more coverage of the Giants — or the Colts.''

Ask Paul Tagliabue what he thinks of the Owens issue and his answer is that he doesn't.

''I guess it shows that in some parts of the media there is focus on whatever, who knows,'' the commissioner said. ''It has about as much effect as a firefly that will be gone in September.''

For Tagliabue and the other 31 teams that may be true.

For the Eagles, it may not be.

Owens spent his first practice back running precise routes catching precision passes from Donovan McNabb, the quarterback he has blamed for a variety of ills, including getting tired in the final stages of the Super Bowl as the Eagles tried to come back against New England.

McNabb later said there was nothing unusual about the day, that he and Owens both performed their tasks in a manner befitting professionals. When he was asked later what would happen if he needed to have a professional discussion with Owens, his reply essentially was ''then we'll have it.''

But there clearly seems to be a palpable aura of tension surrounding the Eagles.

It wasn't so much the 75 to 100 reporters with cameras and microphones who were all over the team headquarters Wednesday. As Dawkins pointed out, there were several thousand of those at the Super Bowl last winter.

It was more in body language, in things left unsaid, in the questions that always seemed to come back to the one that no one could answer: ''Is everything all right now?''

The answer from Reid on down seemed to be: ''It's all right for today.''

Beyond that were the unspoken words: T.O. is T.O. His friendly demeanor, his sharp routes, his strong hands were today's version. But who knows what will happen tomorrow, next week or next month.

A lot of people, including some very much in the know about the Eagles, were surprised that Owens was even taken back.

Maybe they'll be surprised for the rest of the season.

Or maybe they won't.

Dave Goldberg covers football for The Associated Press.

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