If Terrell Owens simply was looking to be loved, then perhaps all of the trouble he went to in the offseason to get to the Philadelphia Eagles was well worth it. On the second day of training camp at Lehigh University, the Eagles opened the gates to the public for the first time on a steamy Sunday afternoon, and the star attraction for a crowd estimated at more than 6,000 was the man who carved a niche as one of the NFL's most productive wide receivers and most polarizing figures in eight seasons in San Francisco.
The fans cheered wildly every time Owens made a catch during the two-hour practice, even in the most mundane drill. They chanted, "T-O! T-O! T-O!" At one point, a man in the stands yelled, "T.O. for president!"
Eagles Coach Andy Reid said he had never seen such a training-camp reception for a player, adding: "It was hard to hear out there. It was loud."
The most bizarre episode of the NFL's offseason was Owens's meandering trek from San Francisco to Philadelphia. He and his agent, David Joseph, missed a procedural deadline to void the remainder of his contract and make him a free agent. The league ruled that he remained under contract to the 49ers, who traded him to the Baltimore Ravens.
But Owens refused to report to the Ravens, claiming he should be free to sign with the Eagles. The NFL Players Association took the case to the league's special master in charge of resolving disputes relating to the collective bargaining agreement, Stephen B. Burbank, and the University of Pennsylvania law professor apparently was prepared to declare Owens a free agent before the parties hurriedly crafted a compromise that undid the trade to Baltimore and resulted in Owens being traded to Philadelphia.
Owens remains unapologetic to the Ravens, saying Sunday that Baltimore's unsettled quarterback situation contributed to his stance and indicating that he would pay no heed to Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis's warning not to come across the middle when the teams play. And, when he was asked Sunday to reflect on the offseason's chain of events, he made it clear that he still doesn't blame himself or Joseph for creating the problem.
"I've thought about it," Owens said. "I'm happy that I'm here. I think there were a lot of things that could have been done a little better. I think my rights as a free agent really weren't carried out the right way. . . . I had a case."
Much is expected of Owens, 30, as the Eagles try to take the next step after losing three straight NFC title games. Quarterback Donovan McNabb at last has a receiver who scares defenses, and the club shed its reputation for frugality by obtaining Owens -- who signed a seven-year, nearly $49 million contract in conjunction with the trade to Philadelphia -- and signing free agent defensive end Jevon Kearse to an eight-year, $66 million deal. But the 49ers were glad to be rid of Owens, and the Eagles must hope that he doesn't disrupt the team chemistry that Reid has fostered.
"Andy knows all the guys who have coached [Owens] all along the line," Eagles President Joe Banner said. "He did the research he needed to and felt comfortable. Anyone you talked to, no matter what else they said about Terrell, described him as hard-working, determined to win and all those kinds of intangibles."
Owens generated controversies in San Francisco with his sideline rants, his public criticism of coaches and teammates and his touchdown celebrations, including dancing on the Dallas Cowboys' midfield star at Texas Stadium and pulling a marker from his sock for an on-field autographing of the ball. He left open the possibility Sunday that more creative end-zone antics could be on the way, saying: "I don't know. We'll see."
He said he felt he had to leave San Francisco because "I just would have been stuck on a bad team." He said that he'd "never really had a good quarterback that I could really play with on a consistent level" despite the fact that his former 49ers quarterback, Jeff Garcia, reached three straight Pro Bowls playing with him. He said the Ravens' plan to start second-year pro Kyle Boller at quarterback "was definitely a factor" in his refusal to go to Baltimore.
"I know Kyle Boller is not a bad quarterback, but he's an up-and-coming quarterback that I'm really not familiar with," Owens said. "Anthony Wright, he took over midway through [last] season. It was kind of like his job to have and right now, with his [shoulder] injuries, anything can happen. I was familiar with the West Coast offense . . . . I have no grudges or anything with Baltimore.
"Like I said, it was a business decision. Everybody goes through this. For all the guys that feel slighted by that -- if they were in my situation, if they were in my shoes playing receiver, then they would have done the same thing."
He said he spoke to Lewis briefly at a recent function but the two didn't have time for an in-depth discussion. The Eagles and Ravens play once in the preseason and once in the regular season, both times in Philadelphia.
"I know there's going to be a lot of hoopla when we get ready to play Baltimore," Owens said. "But like I said, Ray doesn't throw any passes, so it's more of a reason for me not to be on that side. . . . I guess he had some remarks about trying to scare me coming across the middle . . . [but] I've made my living coming across the middle, so it doesn't bother me.
"I mean, he's not the hardest hitter that's probably ever played the game of football. He's definitely a great talent [but] I'm not going to shy away from my style of play versus his style of play. It's not like I play running back, where I'm going to be faced with him pretty much every down. If he wants to get out there and line up at [defensive back], then he can do that."
Owens said he has no problem with Reid's spread-the-wealth approach to his passing offense, saying he can accomplish with 80 catches what other receivers do with 100. Told that Reid had proclaimed publicly that all egos will be checked at the door this season as the Eagles attempt to reach a Super Bowl, Owens said: "I've never really thought of myself as having an ego. I've always found myself having a lot of confidence. I know I have a lot of great ability. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do during the course of the game.
"Other than that, if it's left at the door, then I'm going to bring mine to the field."