Defensive end Jevon Kearse said he was no longer going to talk about Terrell Owens. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter threatened that anyone who asked him a question about Owens was "going to get your feelings hurt." Cornerback Sheldon Brown said he was contemplating putting a sign above his locker declaring it a T.O.-free zone.
But try as they might, the Philadelphia Eagles couldn't stop thinking -- or talking -- about Owens on Wednesday. The embattled defending NFC champions reconvened for their first practice of the week, two days after the Eagles banished Owens for the rest of the season and one day after the club rejected the wide receiver's apology and a public plea by his agent for the team to reinstate Owens immediately.
"I just wanted things to be settled down with the team so we could start winning games," tailback Brian Westbrook said. "Everybody knows T.O. is a great player, but I have confidence in [current starting wideouts] Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown and those guys. . . . As his friend, I feel sorry for him. He's a very talented player and one on one, as a friend, he's a very good guy. . . . I wish he would have [issued Tuesday's apology] earlier. But he didn't, and that's the way things worked out."
Said Kearse: "You can't cry over spilled milk. Whatever happened has happened. It's in the past. Now we have another half of the season. We have eight more games, and five of them are at home. The best way to get people's minds off of T.O. and get them to stop talking about T.O. is to win ballgames and show them that we are the Eagles and we are not the Philadelphia Terrell Owenses."
The NFL Players Association has filed a grievance over the Eagles' decision to suspend Owens for four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the team, then pay him but deactivate him for the remainder of the season. The union maintains that penalty is excessive because the league's collective bargaining agreement says the maximum penalty for conduct detrimental to the team is a four-game suspension without pay, and it will try to convince arbitrator Richard Bloch during a hearing on Nov. 18 that the Eagles should be forced to reinstate Owens or release him so he can sign with another team this season.
The suspension, should it last four weeks, would cost Owens about $800,000 of his $3.25 million salary for this season, and his contract contains a provision that might enable the Eagles to force him to return approximately $1.7 million of his $2.3 million signing bonus.
Owens and agent Drew Rosenhaus conducted a news conference Tuesday outside Owens's home in New Jersey in which Owens apologized to quarterback Donovan McNabb and his other teammates, Eagles Coach Andy Reid, owner Jeffrey Lurie, club president Joe Banner and the team's fans. Rosenhaus, during a combative exchange with reporters, said that Owens should be reinstated.
"I thought it was a sincere apology, but Drew ruined it," Sheldon Brown said Wednesday. "It was T.O.'s press conference, and then I had to hear from his agent longer than I heard from the player."
Kearse, also a Rosenhaus client, defended his agent. "He said what he had to say," the defensive end said. "No matter what any of us do or what any of us say, he's going to back us. That's his job."
Of Owens's apology, Kearse said: "I thought it was big of him. It's a good start. Maybe it means he's grown. But I'm worried about the guys in this locker room right now. I'm done with that situation."
Westbrook said he thought Owens's apology Tuesday was "heartfelt," and he called himself "forgiving." But the tailback, like other Eagles players, declined to take a definitive stand on whether the team should have considered allowing Owens to return.
Sheldon Brown said he could have welcomed back Owens only if Owens had apologized to McNabb face to face in front of the club's other players. "He would have to do some serious things in front of me to Donovan," the cornerback said.
Brown said it took the players by surprise when Owens criticized the team's front office and McNabb during a televised interview last Thursday, a day after reportedly getting into a locker-room scuffle with former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas. Owens had publicly criticized McNabb earlier while engaged in a bitter contract dispute with the Eagles, but Brown said the relationship between McNabb and Owens seemed to be improving. Both showed up, as recently as Halloween, when players gathered to socialize and watch Monday night football games together, according to Brown.
"T.O. hung out with us off the football field," Brown said. "We would get together for Monday night football games and do things together. Donovan was there. T.O. was there. . . . Sometimes T.O. just does things [but] he was hanging with us off the football field, having fun."
There was little or no Owens-bashing in the Eagles' locker room Wednesday, but there was plenty of support expressed for McNabb and Reid, neither of whom was made available to reporters Wednesday. Brown called McNabb "a true professional" who's virtually impossible not to like. He called Reid "one of the nicest guys" and a coach who treats his players with respect. Brown, like Westbrook, said he wished that Owens had issued Tuesday's apology last week instead of the truncated version that the Eagles deemed insufficient. That led the team to leave Owens home for Sunday night's loss to the Washington Redskins.
Had Owens issued a more complete apology last week, Brown said, "he would have been in Washington playing against the Redskins, without a doubt."
Brown added: "I think it's a shame it got to this point. But it's over and done with, and it's time to move on. . . . When I listened to [Tuesday's] apology, I think it's sincere. But I really don't know if someone will give him a second chance, and you really can't blame them. It's really sad because he sounded like he was crying out for help . . . but he may have burned all his bridges and there may not be help available."
The Owens-less Eagles managed only 10 points against the Redskins and will take a 4-4 record into Monday night's game here against the Dallas Cowboys. They're in last place in the NFC East, a division they've won four straight years, but they vowed Wednesday not to give up on their season.
"You keep playing," Trotter said. "You keep fighting. We're in too deep. You can't quit."
Said Kearse: "We believe. We know for a fact that if we do what we're supposed to do and not let this continue to be a distraction, we're going to be all right."