PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are laughing about their melodramatic existence these days, perhaps because it's all they can do to avoid crying or erupting in anger.
"I'm just excited about finally getting a part on 'Days of Our Lives,'" quarterback Donovan McNabb said here Wednesday. "Not that I was a real big fans of the soap operas back in the day, but to be a part of it is special. I'll tell my kids about it."
It has been all T.O., all the time for McNabb and his teammates since the offseason. They were asked during the offseason about wide receiver Terrell Owens's bitter contract dispute with the team. They were asked when Owens reported to training camp in Bethlehem, Pa., 17 days ago whether the unhappy wideout's presence would be a distraction. They were asked when Coach Andy Reid banished Owens from the team for a week for his alleged misbehavior whether Owens's antics would tear apart the defending NFC champions.
And they were asked Wednesday, when Owens rejoined the team, whether this can actually work out.
"It seems like every time I change the channel, there's something on about the Eagles or me or T.O. or whoever," McNabb said. "Again, it's quite humorous to me. I didn't think the preseason would draw so much attention, especially coming into work."
Owens's return brought a carnival-like atmosphere Wednesday, with fans gathered on Pattison Avenue outside the front gate to the club's training facility and a plane flying overhead during practice with a banner that read: "T.O. Must Go."
"I saw it," wide receiver Greg Lewis said. "You had to be blind not to see it."
That didn't stop middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, one of the team's leading would-be peacemakers, from trying to maintain he'd missed it.
"I didn't see that," Trotter said. "I don't know nothing about that negative stuff. I saw that 'We Love T.O.' sign. Did you see that?"
No, because there wasn't one. But it was a nice try by Trotter.
"The attitude is about being positive and moving forward," he said. "That's the only way you can look at it."
Trotter was asked by reporters whether Owens being up to his old antics -- refusing to speak to reporters while donning the same headphones and camouflage shirt and cap that he'd worn on the day he reported to training camp -- was an ominous sign that nothing had changed, even after Owens had met with Reid on Wednesday morning.
"As far as I know, the man's got to wear a shirt," Trotter said, prompting a hearty laugh by guard Shawn Andrews across the locker room. "You can't walk around bareback."
The sizable media contingent at Wednesday's practice was only one of the Eagles' distractions, as it turned out.
"I knew the media wasn't here for me," cornerback Sheldon Brown said, "so I just went through the day and went about my work."
Said Lewis: "It was fun to look at this morning, all the people. But other than that, it's not a distraction. They're not on the field, so they really can't do anything for us."
Still, the Eagles know they have a serious problem that must be resolved before their regular season opener, a Sept. 12 game at Atlanta on a Monday night. Owens and McNabb still aren't talking. Trotter and other intermediaries know they must broker some sort of peace at some point by getting the two to rebuild some sort of relationship, at least while they're on the field together.
"I think [McNabb] is willing," Trotter said. "I think T.O. is willing, too. I just think a lot has gone on. Some things just take time. It's not going to happen overnight. We still have a little while before that first Monday night game in Atlanta. Hopefully by that time we can rectify this problem . . . . The fact of [Owens] just being here, them working together throwing and catching, that's going to work out a lot of it."
When McNabb was asked whether he'd be able to sit in the same room with Owens and have a football-related conversation with the man who last week went on national television and called him a hypocrite, the quarterback said: "I would be able to sit right next to him."
McNabb said: "I choose to be amused because I have a job to do. I won't let one person or one thing take me away from one of my goals, and my goal is obviously to win the Super Bowl. In order for me to do that, I have to make sure I'm clicking on all cylinders, I'm focused on the task at hand and making sure I'm getting all 11 guys in the right positions. I can't focus on what people are saying on the outside or take time out of a series or take time out of a practice to dwell on what's been negative in the past couple days.
"Again, I find everything humorous because everything that you hear or do, it's something that you learn from. People say, 'You handled it a little bit differently.' Everyone handles it a little differently. Some people get a little upset. Some people get quiet. I kind of do everything. But again, I realize what my job is and the other 52 players -- or however many players we have now -- respect that I handle it that way."
McNabb maintained that the team has been unified rather than shredded by the strife.
"There's a lot of humor in the locker room," he said. "Guys are relaxed and just excited about the preseason starting up, finally getting a chance to get out there on the field against someone else . . . I think this whole issue has made us stronger. I think this whole issue has made us realize a lot of things, a lot of key points. If guys take sides, I couldn't really speak on that. But I know one thing: Guys are taking the side of giving all that they have in terms of effort.
" . . . I don't think this is something that we prepared ourselves for. But I think guys realize that any little thing could try to break up a good relationship. And that's made us closer to erase that and focus in on what we've got to do to go out and quiet the critics."
Owens and McNabb coexisted productively, albeit silently, on the practice field Wednesday. The Eagles viewed that as a start, at least.
"The team is a bunch of grown men," Lewis said. "We know what it takes, and we know what we have to do. We can't focus on everything that's outside of football. The guys that have been here for a while have to bring the young guys along and tell them that we have to worry about football and that's it, and let the outside stuff take care of itself."
Said Trotter: "He's here. He's working hard. We had a great day of practice. The guys are smiling and having fun. That's what's supposed to happen." . . .
Reid said he limited Owens's practice-field reps Wednesday because of the groin injury that plagued the wide receiver earlier in training camp, and was noncommittal about whether Owens would play in Saturday's preseason game at Baltimore.
"We'll see," Reid said.
Down To One
Cincinnati signed linebacker David Pollack, the 17th overall selection in the NFL draft in April, to a five-year contract Wednesday worth $10 million, including $7.65 million in bonuses. With cornerback Adam (Pac-Man) Jones, the sixth overall choice, in the process of applying the finishing touches to a five-year deal with the Tennessee Titans, Chicago Bears tailback Cedric Benson is about to be the only unsigned first-round pick. He was the fourth overall selection in the draft . . . .
The St. Louis Rams will lose cornerback Jerametrius Butler for the entire season because of a torn knee ligament. He's scheduled to undergo surgery Monday . . . .
Score another one for agent Drew Rosenhaus, who negotiated linebacker Dan Morgan's five-year, approximately $28 million contract extension with the Carolina Panthers that runs through the 2010 seasons. Morgan had one season remaining on his previous deal. The new contract includes a $6 million signing bonus.