Ravens, Owens to finally connect

Months of talk turn to contact as Eagles receiver faces team he spurned tonight in exhibition

August 20, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

An otherwise vanilla preseason game gets spiced up with one of the NFL's most anticipated showdowns of the year.

Five months removed from successfully fighting his trade to the Ravens, Eagles receiver Terrell Owens meets the team he spurned for the first time tonight at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

For once this week, the nagging question shifts from "Is Deion Sanders coming" to "Will T.O. get KO'd by Ray Lewis?"

While the sides have been ultra-courteous this week - Lewis said, "I wish him a great career and an injury-free season" - the harsh words exchanged this offseason resembled a buildup to a heavyweight fight more than a meaningless exhibition between the Ravens (1-0) and the Eagles (0-1).

Lewis, whose failed recruitment of Owens started at the Pro Bowl, said in the offseason that the receiver went "against his word" and warned him not to cross the middle when the teams play. Owens responded by saying Lewis wasn't the hardest hitter to ever play the game.

So, is Owens concerned about Lewis or other Ravens targeting him for a big hit?

"I guess you have to be aware of it," Owens said. "They may, but it's going to be a situation where we're going to play football. There are going to be situations where they probably have some shots at me. In the running game, I can return the favor. We're just going to play football. That's how it's going to be."

The Ravens' bitter relationship with Owens dates back to 12 days in March, when they went from being assured of having one of the game's top playmakers to being compensated with a fifth-round pick.

After a paperwork error prevented Owens from becoming an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens traded a second-round pick to San Francisco for him. But Owens refused to report for a physical to complete the deal and got the union to file a grievance on his behalf in an attempt to go to Philadelphia.

A three-team settlement was reached before the arbiter could rule on the case, much to the displeasure of the Ravens.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he [Owens] plays just one series," Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller said, "because they know the intensity of the situation."

Nevertheless, other Ravens have tried to downplay the hype surrounding one half (the Ravens' starting offense and defense are scheduled to play the first half only).

"T.O. doesn't do anything special for us," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "People think just because it's T.O., we're going to play harder. That means we haven't been playing as hard as we could when we have been stepping out on the field.

"We're going to fly around and hit people regardless of who is going to be on the other side of the ball and regardless of what has been said in the paper. If you don't have a Baltimore Raven uniform on, we're out to get you."

One of the reasons he didn't want to be with the Ravens, Owens said, was the quarterback situation. He preferred to play with Donovan McNabb instead of Kyle Boller and added that the Ravens' starting job should have been given to backup Anthony Wright.

"I really don't have any comment on that," Boller said. "T.O. is the past, and I've really moved on. I think everything has been talked about."

Ravens coach Brian Billick said it's more of a feud between Owens and the Ravens' fans.

"What has to be appreciated is this is a city that was told no once before with John Elway," Billick said. "So all those feelings become drawn to the surface. The fans are very focused on it. The players truly aren't because it was never an issue and it was never real for them."

Sordid history or not, the Ravens are looking forward to testing themselves against the four-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Last season, the Ravens held him to three catches for 23 yards. His longest reception was 9 yards.

But Chris McAlister shadowed Owens for most of that game. Without McAlister now (he's skipping training camp in a contract dispute), the other Ravens defenders will have a chance to match up with him.

"If he says he's the greatest, then we want to face him," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "All it does is raise the level of competition. It makes the game more exciting. People want to see games like that, and that's what they're going to get."

What people want to see is Owens crossing the middle, where he will meet his friend-turned-foe. If it doesn't happen tonight, their paths will cross in a regular-season game on Halloween.

"If he catches a ball in my area, we'll deal with it that way," Lewis said. "That's just football."

Ravens tonight

Preseason matchup: Ravens (1-0) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (0-1)

Site: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia

Time: 8

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Eagles by 3

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