Trip to Eagle territory exposes T.O. Show

PHILADELPHIA - The city that gave us the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell is the ultimate place to learn about our nation's history. Well over two hundred years later, Philadelphia is proving another truth to be self-evident: One bad apple does indeed spoil the whole bunch.

Okay, that philosophy comes from lame '70s pop music and not our founding fathers, but the idea is still valid. I just returned from a week in Philly where I got a hefty dose of the Eagles' soap opera. For a team that has been to the NFC Championship game four years in a row, this is one unhappy lot.

The main culprit is obvious. Terrell Owens has become a cartoon. For everyone except Eagles fans, the T.O. Show with master of ceremonies Drew Rosenhaus is hugely entertaining. See T.O. doing situps for reporters. Hear Rosenhaus talk about Owens' desire to play football, while T.O. sits mutely by in street clothes rather than training camp togs. Listen closely for real football news in between the endless Owens updates.

When talented receiver Todd Pinkston was lost for the season with a blown Achilles, it turned another page in the Eagles' saga. Would T.O. see the light? Would he realize the irony of a hard-working player suffering a season-ending injury while Owens jaws his way though his own minor injury? Would he rise to the occasion to heal the Eagles' receiving corps?

That would be a no on all counts.

Owens has become the poster boy for what's wrong with the NFL. If there's a controversy, he's in. Showboating? Show me the Sharpie. Free agency? Get him an agent famous for screwing up team chemistry. Contract? What contract? The storyline about high profile athletes signing deals that clearly spell out time and money matters (hence the term contract) has moved beyond tedious and is now approaching nauseating.

The antics of Owens and Rosenhaus are certainly no surprise. However, I was taken aback when Donovan McNabb supported Owens' team-splintering attitude. Worse than that, McNabb shot down my previous perception of him as a smart and sensible guy when he called out Brett Favre. Granted, McNabb was baited by an ESPN reporter, who asked him if he was surprised that Favre "actually called out a teammate." The question was asked in dramatic fashion and designed to illicit a certain response. Staying one step ahead of that kind of reporting while the camera is on probably isn't easy, but I truly thought McNabb was up to the task. He's been through a lot and should be a little more media-savvy. Unfortunately his too-easy answer about backing up a teammate (Owens) actually fails to back up the scores of other Eagles who keep their mouth shut while adhering to the contract they signed. McNabb also failed to recall a simple lesson from childhood. His use of the word "unprofessional" in describing Favre made the otherwise well-respected Eagle QB a laughingstock. McNabb mistakenly chose Owens' "Goofus" over Favre's "Gallant."

McNabb's choice came back to haunt him already. T.O. isn't known for his loyalty, and didn't appreciate the misguided support that his QB offered. Instead, Owens' mouth eventually started a feud with McNabb. The QB responded by stating the Owens should "keep my name out of his mouth." Yikes.

Can it get worse? Yes. Now Rush Limbaugh, who once sought to tear McNabb down with racist remarks, is offering to step in and mend the fence between McNabb and Owens. This proves that truth is stranger than fiction.

The biggest surprise is that this is happening under Andy Reid. I can't imagine that there is anything in Reid's approach that breeds such discontent. Straight from the Mike Holmgren No B.S. coaching school, Reid cannot be happy with the situtation. Giving Owens the boot from camp was the best move Reid could have made. He was in Green Bay with Holmgren through the climb to the top -- all the way to the top -- and he knows what attitude and atmosphere that takes. Reid may recall the feeling of the Packer lockerroom prior to the '96 season and compare it with the current atmosphere in Philadelphia, where they are counting on a crown in 2006. The contrast must be killing him.

While I was in Philly I looked forward to capping each day of sightseeing with the reports of Owens' antics. It gave me time to reflect on how fortunate the Packers are to have a rock-solid leader in Favre who has too much integrity and common sense to refuse to say what is right and wrong. In speaking his mind, when asked, about failure of teammates to live up to their word, Favre is setting an example that he backs up every day.

The Eagles have repeatedly demonstrated how close they are to the prize, but maybe the lack of that kind of leadership is what prevents the Eagles from taking that last crucial step.

Or maybe it was just Tom Brady.

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