Owens saga drags on

Eagle appears at arbitration hearing hoping penalty is reduced

Pro Football


Philadelphia -- Cloaked in secrecy and surrounded by security usually reserved for delicate international negotiations, the latest chapter in the tedious Terrell Owens saga played out yesterday at an airport hotel here.

The Eagles wide receiver, banished from the team two weeks ago after criticizing quarterback Donovan McNabb and the organization, appeared at a marathon arbitration hearing to decide whether his suspension penalty should be lessened. Members of the Eagles' organization, including coach Andy Reid, also gave their accounts of events involving the wide-out.

Lawyers for the NFL Players Association who represented Owens yesterday said they believed they presented a "very powerful" case for the overturning of the player's discipline and his reinstatement.

"We believe [the Eagles] have to restore him to the status he was in, and he has to be treated like any other player at that point," attorney Jeffrey Kessler said. "Now I guess if someone thinks there's a better receiver on the Eagles, the coach doesn't have to play him. What do you think?"

Arbitrator Richard Bloch is expected to make a decision in the next few days.

Owens is grieving the Eagles' decision to suspend him without pay for four games for conduct detrimental to the team. In addition to his recent critical remarks regarding McNabb's ability and the team's failure to publicly recognize one of Owens' career receiving milestones, he's been involved in a battle to re-do his contract, was in a preseason spat with Reid and told offensive coordinator Brad Childress not to address him unless spoken to first.

The suspension - the culmination of months of rancor between Owens and the Eagles - is costing him nearly $200,000 a game and is entering its third week. When exiled after the season's seventh game, he had 47 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns.

Owens, who was joined by agent Drew Rosenhaus yesterday, arrived at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott shortly after 9 a.m., and the hearing dragged far into the night.

Along with Reid, other members of the Eagles' organization who testified were Childress, team president Joe Banner, trainer Rick Burkholder, public relations director Derek Boyko and former defensive end Hugh Douglas, who had an altercation with Owens a few weeks ago in the team training room. Owens testified last.

The litany of Eagles complaints - reportedly carefully documented - ranged from Owens' criticism of the quarterback and the fracas with Douglas, who is now a goodwill ambassador for the team, to being late for meetings and parking his car in the wrong spot at the practice facility.

The Eagles have said after Owens' suspension, he'll be deactivated until the end of the regular season, presumably with pay. It is expected the team will release Owens before it is obligated to pay him a $5 million bonus in March. Owens is trying to get back his pay for the four-game suspension.

At the hotel, reporters were kept out of the lobby, Philadelphia police hovered near the entrance, and non-hotel guests' movements were monitored, including being escorted to restrooms. Witnesses were whisked into the hotel, avoiding the front door where camera crews were staked out.

Owens' suspension and yesterday's hearing has been getting the kind of attention normally associated with a big game. Even the popular gambling Web site Bodog.com was offering betting odds on whether the player would be successful in his appeal and on which team he might wind up playing for next season.


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