Terrell Owens wanted to play for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, he said at the time, because he wanted to play alongside Donovan McNabb. They worked out in Arizona together that offseason. They seemed to have bonded, and the arrival of the highly controversial -- and highly productive wide receiver -- helped McNabb to be a better quarterback. Both were among the league's most valuable players as the Eagles finally reached a Super Bowl after three straight NFC title game losses.
Now they barely speak to one another, and McNabb says he's in no rush to have a clear-the-air meeting. During his very public contract spat with the Eagles this past offseason, Owens took some verbal swipes at McNabb, and they've been the center of attention in the first few days of training camp at Lehigh University. But McNabb said Wednesday that the two still will be able to function together on the field.
"It's funny how the assumptions come out for us and our situation," McNabb said. "Everyone said last year how we were just the best of friends, and we were hanging out and doing everything. We had a good business relationship then. And we have a good business relationship now."
That has been the refrain in the Eagles' camp -- that McNabb and Owens will find a way to craft a partnership, and the team will keep winning. "When you have two quality guys," said Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, indicating that he does put Owens in that category, "things usually can be worked out."
The Eagles always have been able to shrug off disappointment and adversity during a run of success that has included four straight NFC East titles. But this offseason was turbulent even by their standards. There was speculation that McNabb had been sick or knocked woozy during his uneven Super Bowl performance. Then came Owens's demand that the club rework his seven-year, $48.97 million contract after one season. He had outperformed the contract, he and agent Drew Rosenhaus maintained. And besides, Owens said, he wasn't the one who'd been tired during the Super Bowl.
Owens threatened to hold out from training camp and said he wouldn't mind being traded. But he showed up for camp on time Monday, and he and Rosenhaus met Tuesday with Eagles President Joe Banner and Coach Andy Reid. Neither side budged in the contract dispute, and Owens continues to pout. He refused to speak to reporters for a third straight day.
He did agree to an interview with former Eagles wide receiver Irving Fryar on WPVI-TV, and said: "I had a talk with [his family] before I got here. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here. . . . They said to stay strong throughout everything. They know it is not fair and we're honest about it."
Asked by Fryar if he could play his best under the current circumstances, Owens said: "I'm here in camp and that's all I can say."
But at least he's here, which is more than the Eagles can say for two key veterans who are holding out in contract disputes, tailback Brian Westbrook and defensive tackle Corey Simon. Defensive end Jerome McDougle is absent after being shot in the stomach last week in Miami by armed robbers. He was released from the hospital Tuesday.
The Eagles have become the next-best thing to a model franchise in the NFL, behind only the New England Patriots, yet they always seem to be a soap opera.
"Every year, it's been something," McNabb said. "It's the contract. It's how somebody's feeling. It's, 'What are the Eagles going to do now? They went to the NFC championship. Is the window closing?' There's just always something. But I think we've always stood up to the challenge and try to do the right thing."
They certainly believe they did the right thing by not giving in to Owens's demands. Banner said: "In the long run, we would have created a situation where people wouldn't have been able to rely on us meaning what we say. . . . That was an important principle for us to hold onto."
Owens received a mixture of boos and cheers from about 9,200 fans as he took the field for Wednesday morning's practice, the first that was open to the public. The crowd's reaction became increasingly positive as the day progressed, and Owens waved his arms to urge the fans on.
McNabb said he didn't allow the Owens saga to ruin his offseason. He did his best to stay out of it -- unlike Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, who publicly rebuked wide receiver Javon Walker during Walker's contract dispute with the Packers. McNabb was careful to say Wednesday that he isn't criticizing Favre but he thinks he dealt with the matter properly.
"I've handled it in the best way, and that's to stay away from everything," McNabb said. "Really, when it comes down to that, it's none of my business and none of my concern."