Ravens catch Owens, issues

Pro Bowl receiver traded from 49ers `fills a need,' carries some baggage

March 05, 2004|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN STAFF

The Ravens made a major move yesterday, trading for Terrell Owens, a Pro Bowl receiver known as much for his flamboyant on-field behavior as his talent.

Owens is the star the Ravens need to improve their passing game and add balance to their offense, so the trade isn't a gamble in that sense.

"It's a terrific move, fills a need," said Mike Golic, an ESPN broadcaster, football analyst and former NFL player.

In return, Baltimore sent its second-round choice in the 2004 NFL draft to the San Francisco 49ers. The deal is contingent on Owens' passing a physical exam.

But Owens, 30, does come with baggage. He has a record of game-related problems that include showboating, arguing with coaches on the sidelines and criticizing teammates.

Fairly or not, he has developed a reputation as one of the game's problem children.

In the wake of Jamal Lewis' indictment last week on federal drug charges, which has raised echoes of Ray Lewis' murder trial in 2000, will Owens' addition smudge the Ravens' reputation?

"I'm not buying that," Golic said. "After what Baltimore has been through with Ray and Jamal, to have [Owens] blowing up at a coach on the sidelines would be laughable [as a problem]. It's irrelevant compared to those other situations. It's apples and oranges. Owens has had some issues on the field but none off the field."

At a news conference yesterday, Ravens coach Brian Billick dismissed a question about possible effects on the team's image. "This is a guy that hasn't had incident one in his NFL career off the field, so let's establish our priorities here," he said. "We're getting a good citizen in that regard. We're getting a young man that has a tremendous passion for the game. We have a lot of players in that category.

"We have every confidence that he will fit in with what we're trying to create here with the Baltimore Ravens."

The Ravens finished 10-6 last season, won their first division title and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans. Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards to highlight the offense, but second-year quarterback Kyle Boller has been named the starter for 2004 with hope the passing game will improve.

Owens, who played in college at Tennessee-Chattanooga, caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns for the 49ers last season, his eighth year with the team.

He made headlines in recent years for spiking a ball on a star painted on the middle of the Dallas Cowboys' field; arguing with the offensive coordinator on the sidelines during a game; grabbing a pompom from a cheerleader and shaking it after scoring a touchdown; and, most famously, pulling a marker out of his sock after scoring a touchdown on Monday Night Football and autographing the ball.

He recently criticized his quarterback in San Francisco, Jeff Garcia, whom the 49ers have since released.

Dr. Harry Edwards, a prominent sports psychologist who has worked with the 49ers since the early 1980s, yesterday cautioned against making too much of Owens' antics.

"This young man has never had one iota of trouble with women, drugs, violence, anything like that. You're not going to get that with Terrell," he said. "What you are going to get is the kind of behavior on the field that his generation celebrates. It's cultural. You're not going to change it. You're going to have to deal with it [in Baltimore]. You just have to manage it.

"Terrell is not of the same generation as [Hall of Fame receivers] Lynn Swann and Jerry Rice. He is of the generation of Randy Moss and Joe Horn."

The latter are two of today's top receivers who have spawned unflattering headlines. Moss, who plays for the Minnesota Vikings, has had off-field problems and once admitted he didn't try hard on every play. Horn, of the New Orleans Saints, was fined by the league last season for making a cell phone call in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.

"Their generation doesn't have the respect for the game that prior generations had," Edwards said. "But they do respect the challenge the game presents, which is why you've seen them celebrating after they make a good play. But that's the point: To them, the challenge is much more self-focused."

Baltimore sports fans might find similarities between the Ravens' trade for Owens and the Orioles' 1999 signing of All-Star slugger Albert Belle, who had a history of recalcitrance with fans and the media.

In each case, the team was so desperate to add offense it was willing to risk taking on a player who might alienate some fans.

The Orioles' gamble backfired when Belle was forced to retire after two seasons because of a degenerative hip condition.

Edwards, who has worked extensively with NFL players and teams, expects Owens' move to the Ravens to have a much happier ending. "Terrell is a tremendous worker with fantastic competitive desires, and I see the Ravens as a team with enormous pride and self-respect. That's a good fit," he said.

He added: "The Ravens expect to play at a certain level. That's not just coming from the coaches. There's something powerful in that locker room with the leadership of Ray, Jamal and those big linemen. There's a commitment to the team that has dwindled to some extent in the last three years in San Francisco.

"I think that's going to have an effect on Terrell. I think you're going to see a different kind of guy on the field."

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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