The Philadelphia Eagles didn't look like a team burdened by Super Bowl-or-bust expectations Wednesday as players eagerly prepared to wrap up their training camp stay at Lehigh University and move operations back to their regular practice facility after Friday night's preseason opener at New England.
"It's not right for a guy my size to sleep in a dorm bed,'' defensive tackle Corey Simon said.
Teammates playfully tossed rubber exercise balls at defensive end Jerome McDougle as he tried to participate in a television interview following a morning practice. Players piled into motorized carts to chase down trainers and ballboys and throw them into soaking tubs in an end-of-camp ritual. Quarterback Donovan McNabb boasted he was winning a competition with wide receiver Freddie Mitchell to see who could grow his hair longer.
Despite the laughs, this will be a season of serious business for the Eagles, who know the fun ends when the regular season begins. The anguish of a third straight NFC championship game loss, this time to the Carolina Panthers, in January gave way to an offseason in which the Eagles shed their league-wide reputation for salary cap frugality by signing defensive end Jevon Kearse via free agency and trading for wide receiver Terrell Owens. Now the local radio call-in shows are filled with talk about whether the team can go undefeated, and the players know they will be under the brightest of spotlights.
"Obviously the eyes are on us,'' McNabb said.
Said Simon: "This is about getting a Super Bowl ring. I want one. We're here to win. Anything less than a Super Bowl is a failure. You look around this team, and a lot of people here feel the same way.''
Eagles President Joe Banner quibbles with the notion that the club had to dust off its checkbook for this championship push, pointing out the team signed cornerback Troy Vincent (now with the Bills), defensive end Hugh Douglas (now with the Jaguars) and tackle Jon Runyan to big-money contracts in past years. But after signing Kearse to an eight-year, $66 million contract and giving Owens a seven-year, nearly $49 million deal when the offseason dispute about his missed chance at free agency ended with a compromise in which he was traded from San Francisco to Philadelphia, Banner acknowledged making two mega acquisitions in the same year "is something that hardly anybody ever does, forget us.
"That's unique,'' Banner said. "Very rarely when you go after two players of that caliber do you actually get both of them. We went into it thinking, 'Well, let's go after both of these guys, and if we get them, that's phenomenal. But the reality is, we're probably lucky if we get either of them.' When the situations unraveled in a way where there we were with a chance to get both of them, we thought, 'We said if we could get either or both of them, we should do it. So let's not stop.' ''
Kearse struggled with injuries his last few seasons with the Tennessee Titans but gives the Eagles' defense a top-notch pass rusher if he can remain healthy. Team officials suffered some anxious moments when Kearse was carted off the practice field after hurting his ankle Monday, but he declared the injury minor and said he hopes to play Friday. Banner said doctors examined Kearse thoroughly before the Eagles signed him and determined the acquisition would not be any more risky than any other big-money player move.
"The way they looked at it, he had one year in which he had a major injury and in four years he either had minor injuries or no injuries, which in the NFL is not bad,'' Banner said. "If over the next five years he plays four of them healthy and has an injury in one, we'll feel great about it.''
The risk with Owens is that the controversy-generating wide receiver could disrupt the team-first mentality Coach Andy Reid has fostered during the Eagles' run of success. But Reid had coached Owens at the Pro Bowl and talked to Owens's former coaches and endorsed the move, Banner said. Owens has demonstrated during his brief Eagles tenure that he doesn't intend to change his approach. He has generated one headline after another, most recently when he suggested in a Playboy interview that his former 49ers quarterback, Jeff Garcia, might be homosexual.
The Eagles just hope Owens's antics don't become destructive and he indeed makes a difference by giving McNabb, for the first time in the quarterback's time in Philadelphia, a wide receiver who scares defenses.
"They've gotten to the NFC championship three years in a row,'' Owens said. "We're going to try to make it four and try to go beyond that. I know my purpose here. I know my role here. I'm just going to go out here and try to do my thing.''