I arose three Sundays ago with a pit in my stomach to watch the Eagles play Dallas. I had just had a dream that one of their stars had been injured, the team lost for the season, and the Eagles’ name had been replaced by a blank in a list of playoff teams.
A short while later, I sat numbly on the couch as an agonized Terrell Owens limped off the field and collapsed in his trainer’s arms once he entered the tunnel. Having seen the way T.O.’s leg was bent back, I assumed it was his ACL. It was sickening to watch, and typical that it be at the hands of a hated NFC East rival.
Damn, I never thought it would be T.O.!
After all, he is arguably the finest physical specimen in the NFL, with a work ethic that dwarfs his infamous mouth. That’s the thing about T.O. that the national sports media either didn’t understand or didn’t care about. All they showed were the touchdown dances, the confident swagger, the films of him lambasting ex-coach Steve Mariucci.
Nevertheless, through it all, he was the NFL’s most dominant wide-out. His bread-and butter was not the long bomb, but fearlessly going over the middle – against the likes of Ray Lewis. Owens’ explosion off the line and strength make Randy Moss look like a scared little toothpick in comparison.
Terrell Owens was raised right, by a tough-as-nails grandmother who wouldn’t let him out of the yard. He has never been in trouble with the law, never messed around with drugs, always played it straight.
As I said, his work ethic is amazing. Eagles coach Andy Reid, who coached the NFC Pro Bowl team the last couple of years, noticed it immediately: "T.O. prepared for those Pro Bowls just like it was the regular season."
Nevertheless, the scum at the bottom of the bucket rejoiced at his injury. "It’s exactly what he deserves," hooted one typically eloquent Cowboys fan. "That’ll teach him to dance on our star!" Never mind giving his full heart, mind, and body to the people of Philadelphia. Never mind his brilliant season that allowed Donovan McNabb to finally reach his potential. (Many had forgotten how stunning D-Mac could be with a go-to receiver. Remember, he re-wrote the college record books at Syracuse. His wide-out there? Marvin Harrison.) They only saw the dances.
Success always attracts haters, like fruit flies drowning in your wine.
So what now for the Birds? Don’t write their eulogy quite yet. There are eight other pro-bowlers on this team, most of who play for the reborn defense. Three out of the four starters in the secondary are going to the Pro Bowl, including the much-derided Lito Sheppard at the corner. I cannot fathom why the shockingly athletic Jevon Kearse won’t make the trip, but prodigal son Jeremiah Trotter will, as well as terrifying safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis.
For the offense, a main key is the NFL’s most versatile back, Brian Westbrook. Spaghetti-armed Todd Pinkston, so tough early in the year, has become terrified of the big hit and Freddie Mitchell is Freddie Mitchell. In other words, the receiving corps is largely impotent. This means the physicality and sure hands of tight ends L.J. Smith and Chad Lewis will be crucial.
But, as T.O. said, number five is the captain of this ship, and I have faith in him. One of the most complete athletes in the league, Donovan has earned his nickname, "Superman." Think of the 15-second scramble and 52-yard completion in Dallas. Think of the impossible pass from mid-air, out of bounds, back across his body, all with Giants’ DE Michael Strahan down his throat. There’s reason for concern, yes, but not for panic. No coach in the league is better at dealing with adversity than Andy Reid. The last three losses in the NFC Championship game have been with the Eagles’ top offensive producers either severely hobbled or out. The difference is that this team, even without T.O., is better than any of those teams, and the competition is not nearly as stiff.
I’ve been an Eagles fan for all 30 of my years, and I’m far too superstitious to predict the outcome of any game they’re in, but I’ll say this: toss the last two weeks out, and remember that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Philly.
And a message to the haters for next year: If you don’t want to see T.O. dance, there’s one way to stop him.
Keep him out of the end zone.