The Philadelphia Eagles were reintroduced to life with Terrell Owens on Wednesday. That strange existence included about two dozen fans, some of them brandishing anti-Owens signs, gathered outside the gate to the team's South Philadelphia training complex early in the morning. It included a plane circling overhead during practice and sporting a banner, sponsored by a local radio station, that read: "T.O. Must Go."
And, once again, it included a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver catching practice-field passes from a star quarterback to whom he doesn't speak. Owens rejoined the Eagles after a morning meeting with Coach Andy Reid, who had banished the disgruntled wideout from the club for a week, and those in the organization crossed their fingers and hoped for the best.
"I'm hoping and praying that nothing else breaks out," veteran safety Brian Dawkins said. "I'm going to leave it at that."
Owens ignored questions from reporters as he sat at his locker after the first of the day's two practices, wearing headphones and putting on the same camouflage shirt and cap that he'd sported when he reported to the Eagles' training camp in Bethlehem, Pa., 16 days before. Owens remains embroiled in a bitter contract dispute with the Eagles, who have refused to renegotiate his seven-year, $48.97 million deal after one season.
Reid said he met with Owens for a few minutes, and declined to reveal specifics of the conversation.
"It was a good meeting," said Reid, who added later: "He was out there practicing and practiced well. He did a great job out there. . . . He was fine today. I would expect him to be like that."
Owens caught plenty of passes from quarterback Donovan McNabb during the two-hour morning practice but there was no noticeable interaction between the two. Owens, who took verbal swipes at McNabb during the offseason and called the quarterback a hypocrite during a series of television interviews last week, moved past McNabb without speaking as the Eagles players left the field following the morning practice. The afternoon practice was devoted to special teams drills.
"When we're on that football field, we're here to work," McNabb said. "We're here to do a job. . . . We knew that he was coming back to be a part of this team. He's still under contract here. He still has his locker in our locker room. He still wears this jersey. When he came back, he was coming back to be a part of this team. So when he came out to practice, it wasn't like I wasn't looking to throw him a pass. . . . When I'm out on that football field, if you're open, you get the ball."
Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who remained in touch with Owens throughout the dispute, said he expects nothing to change in Owens's behavior, with the possible exception of a conversation with McNabb at some point.
"He's going to come in and do the same thing he's been doing -- work hard and catch touchdowns . . . [but] T.O. is going to be T.O.," Trotter said. "If you expect him to talk to you, you're going to be waiting for a long time. He talks to teammates. If a coach makes a comment, he might respond. But other than that -- 'How are you doing?' or 'How is your day going?' -- you're not getting any of that."
Trotter said that approach is fine with him as long as Owens remains a productive wide receiver. He also indicated he is working as an intermediary to try to get Owens and McNabb to speak to one another, at least when they're on the field.
"The only person he might have to talk to down the road is Donovan in a game situation," Trotter said. "Both guys are professionals. I think they're going to put their differences aside and go out and do what's best for the team."
McNabb indicated he's receptive to having football-related conversations with Owens, saying: "I think it's going to happen. I look forward to it happening. But, again, when we get to that situation then that's when we'll handle it. I think what we're doing right now is obviously easing into everything and just going out and working."
McNabb continued to say he finds humor in the Eagles' soap opera. He also predicted that Owens will be with the team all season, telling reporters, "I think by midseason, you guys will be talking about something positive."
Wideout Greg Lewis said that Owens spoke to him Wednesday, teasing him about running a wrong pass route in Monday night's loss at Pittsburgh in the Eagles' preseason opener. But that was no different than how Owens had interacted with the team's other receivers before his clash with Reid, Lewis said.
Said cornerback Sheldon Brown, who suffered a cut on his left shin after being accidentally kicked by Owens during the morning practice: "He didn't alienate every player. He did talk to some teammates. We all have to drop our egos, period, and become a unit."
Reid sent Owens home from the Eagles' camp at Lehigh University after the two argued. Reid was upset that Owens, among other things, had refused to participate in two autograph sessions for fans and wasn't talking to the club's assistant coaches.
Owens said last week that he would return with the same attitude, but Eagles officials wanted to see a contrite Owens who's ready to try harder to fit in with his team. And if that doesn't end up being the case, they apparently are prepared to discipline Owens further. They set the stage for that by sending a letter to Owens chronicling his recent disciplinary issues. That letter could end up being submitted to an arbitrator if the Eagles suspend Owens and he files a grievance.
Reid said he limited Owens's participation in practice because of the groin injury that plagued him earlier in training camp, and indicated he's uncertain whether Owens will play Saturday at Baltimore.
"He needs to work hard, like he did," Reid said. "And the coaches will coach him, and he'll play."