Ravens fans owe Owens a hand for turning his back

The Eagles

Pro Football

August 18, 2005|By David Steele

PHILADELPHIA - Not that fans ever follow advice offered in this space (right, Raffy?), but here's another stab at asking Baltimore to take a stand on principle. The next opportunity comes Saturday night, when the Ravens host the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason game.

Ravens fans, this is your chance to make the statement Orioles fans couldn't. This one is much simpler, less conflicting and easier to support. When Terrell Owens comes onto the M&T Bank Stadium field, resist your urge to boo him all the way back up the highway. Instead, give him the biggest, loudest, happiest standing ovation ever given to a player on any team.

With all your heart and soul and voice, thank him - for refusing to come here. He's Philly's problem now, not yours.

T.O. returned yesterday from a one-week team-imposed exile, landing in the middle of a raging debate that centered on, in essence, whether he was the most selfish, disruptive, thoughtless, back-stabbing, attention-starved athlete in sports today, or in sports history. (Of course, it has been awhile since anyone's heard from Kobe Bryant, so the race is still wide-open.)

Owens returned to a group of teammates that joked its way around the chaos he created, that circled the wagons efficiently and spouted the company line faithfully, and devoted itself to concentrating on its collective goal of returning to the Super Bowl, rather than on the antics of one player who intentionally separated himself from the rest at the precise time devoted to bonding together.

"This whole issue has made us stronger," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, thrown under the bus so flagrantly during one of Owens' televised rants last week. " ... Are guys taking sides? I know one thing - guys are taking the side of giving all that they have in effort, giving all they have as far as work ethic is concerned, and going out and winning games."

Then again, McNabb acknowledged, "I don't think this is something you prepare yourself for, but now people realize that any little thing can break up good relationships."

Or any little person.

Remember, if not for Owens worming his way out of that trade from the San Francisco 49ers last year, that could have been Kyle Boller trying to handle all of this. McNabb has a world of experience that Boller lacks, and he called on all of it just to swallow his pride without gagging on it. Imagine the Ravens' leaders being force-fed that meal for the sake of locker-room harmony.

Also, imagine the scene at the Eagles' practice facility yesterday unfolding instead in Owings Mills. It was the Rafael Palmeiro return times 100 and the Jamal Lewis arrival times 500.

An hour and 15 minutes before practice, Owens drove in wearing a camouflage T-shirt and matching Atlanta Braves cap, greeted by supporters, hecklers, radio jock stunt guys handing out "T.O. Bucks" with his face on them, a man wearing a bustier and thong, banners reading "T.O. MUST GO" draped over a van across the street and flying from a plane circling the complex, and about 100 media people from up and down the East Coast.

The media crowd stretched along the sidelines during practice (Owens participated and looked healthy and sharp), slalomed through the locker room in search of reaction (Owens' only comment, at his locker: "Man, can I get some privacy?"), and packed into Andy Reid's daily briefing.

Not expressive by nature, the coach clearly relished yesterday's duties less than usual. His recounting of his meeting with Owens upon his return was terse: "T.O. and I did get together this morning. I'm obviously not going to get into details."

Was it just you and him, Coach? "It was myself and T.O., yes?" Did he meet with his teammates? "No." The assistant coaches he included in his deluge of disrespectful insults? "No." How long did you meet? "A few minutes. I didn't time it." Did he agree to the terms you laid out for his return? "He practiced, and he practiced well."

That, again, could have been Brian Billick on the hot seat - except that the day he restricts himself to answers that short about anything will be the first.

The Eagles are in a frenzy, and not the good kind. It's all because of one player, one who can inspire Super Bowl dreams and sabotage them at the same time. Yesterday's circus was just the close of one chapter of a story that seems destined for an unhappy ending for everybody involved.

But the Ravens and their fans are not involved. The only way they'll be involved is at Saturday's game. So show your gratitude to Owens, for turning that deal last year into the best trade the franchise never made.

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