PHILADELPHIA Terrell Owens has never had any problems off the field. His antics on the field cause him enough trouble.
Owens' brash-talking, showboating image hasn't made him a popular guy around the NFL. But the perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver, an MVP contender in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, can't understand why he's become such a villain.
He said Wednesday he received several ''hate'' e-mails through his Web site from people asking how he can embarrass Ray Lewis by imitating Lewis' dance after Owens scored a touchdown in Sunday's 15-10 victory over Baltimore.
''It's discouraging at times that I get labeled and put in that same mold and that I'm the worst guy that ever put on a uniform,'' Owens said. ''It's funny. I listen to all the comments and it baffles me.
''You have a guy like Ray Lewis, who I thought he was pretty much my friend. This is a guy, double murder case, and he could have been in jail, but it seems like the league embraces a guy like that. But I'm going out scoring touchdowns and having fun, but I'm the bad guy.''
Owens has feuded with Lewis, Baltimore's All-Pro linebacker, since he spurned the Ravens and forced a trade to the Eagles in March. After Owens mocked Lewis by imitating his dance, Lewis, several Ravens and other players around the league heavily criticized the innovative Owens for his latest self-expression.
''All I can really narrow it down to is that they don't like me,'' Owens said. ''Like (Pittsburgh linebacker) Joey Porter said, Lewis comes back and the league embraces him. He makes tackles and he gets up and does his thing. He probably gets credited for tackles and he don't even make them.
''For whatever reason, they just don't like me. I think just the fact that I have a lot of confidence for what I can do on the field, and I still go out there and I do it and I still have fun with it, so I don't know why they have a problem with me.''
Lewis declined comment on Owens. The Ravens issued the following statement: ''Like the rest of the NFL community, we would expect nothing less from Terrell Owens.''
Lewis was arrested following a double murder outside an after-hours nightclub in Atlanta in January 2000. The murder charges later were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea to a charge of obstruction of justice a misdemeanor.
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP in 2001, Lewis' image was tarnished by his arrest and he initially was snubbed by advertisers. He since has become an overwhelming commercial success, marketing video games, NFL garb and high-performance apparel.
''I'm obviously not one of those guys who are a face of the NFL that they're going to have on commercials,'' Owens said. ''They pick the guys that they feel best suits whatever position they're trying to come across with. So who knows? I just go out there and I still do my thing.''
Owens became infamous for his TD celebrations with San Francisco, including pulling a Sharpie from his sock and autographing a football, posing on the Cowboys' star at midfield in Texas Stadium, and waving a cheerleader's pompoms.
This season, he performed sit-ups in the end zone, threw a football at a derogatory sign and tore down another negative one.
Though he has many critics, Owens also has a few supporters.
''It's fine for this guy to celebrate, but it's not fine for this guy,'' Porter told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. ''Why isn't it funny when Terrell does the pompoms? The media has total control over that. Because you guys like Ray Lewis so much, you love it when he dances. But Terrell dances or does something, just because you guys don't like him, you say, 'Ah, I don't think he should do that.'''
Even stoic Eagles coach Andy Reid doesn't have a problem with Owens' flashy personality.
''I think you're dealing with a guy that is a great kid,'' Reid said. ''You never read anything negative about T.O. off the field or taking care of people, whether it's family or friend. It's all positive. He's never been a drug abuser or any of that stuff off the field. He's a straight-arrow guy and that's welcome in our locker room.''
Owens' skills are most welcomed by the Eagles. He has 42 receptions for 697 yards and a league-high nine TD catches. His presence is a main reason quarterback Donovan McNabb is off to his best start and the Eagles are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history.
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