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LAT: League needs T.O. from T.O.

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League needs T.O. from T.O.

http://www2.dailynews.com/sports/ci_2959562

Since he reported back to camp after being told to sit in the corner for a week, Terrell Owens has been mum.

There have been no national TV appearances, no ab crunches from his driveway and there was no T.O. in Baltimore on Saturday night - a move designed to either protect Owens from a) injury to his sore groin, B) injury from Ray Lewis or c) injury to himself.

Or d) all of the above.

Not that Owens has needed to step into the center ring. The circus, having thrown its tent over the NFL for more than three weeks now, is quite capable of feeding itself.

Just open the notebooks, turn on the mikes and let the drama begin.

Lewis, on Sporting News Radio, said earlier this week: "Yes, (the media) have to let people know, whatever. That's cool. But following his everyday activities to keep us up like a soap opera? We might as well watch 'Guiding Light' when we come home for a break. We might as well watch 'As the World Turns' or something like that."

If the topic of T.O. is getting tired in many training camps, it would be easy to attribute that to the culture of pro football frowning on most forms of individual expression. But when has the NFL seen a carnie act like this?

It's enough to make Deion Sanders seem modest.

Randy Moss knows how to cause a ripple or two, but it's usually uncalculated - something from someone who doesn't really care about societal mores as opposed to someone who is exploiting them. Ricky Williams? Football's answer to baseball's Manny being Manny.

No, we really haven't seen this sort of manipulation of players, coaches, organizations, leagues, fans and the media since, well, Dennis Rodman.

And give or take a predilection for tattoos, casinos and publicity-seeking bimbos, what's the difference?

Owens, like Rodman, arrived from a small college - Tennessee-Chattanooga for Owens, Southeastern Oklahoma State for Rodman - and quickly established himself as a hard-working role player who was willing to defer to the team's stars. For Rodman, it was Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. For Owens, Jerry Rice and Steve Young.

Somewhere along the line Rodman realized being a rebounding machine would garner only so much money, fame and power, and before he knew it he'd be back mopping floors at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. And so one thing led to another and soon eccentric became deviant, which gave way to sociopathic.

For Owens, the country boy from Alexander City, Ala., it's been essentially the same thing. He began to chafe at being in Jerry Rice's shadow in San Francisco, which he found out didn't shrink when Rice had left. When the 49ers began to be less relevant, so was Owens.

Then, after forcing a trade to Philadelphia, all the love lavished on him for transforming the Eagles wasn't enough.

And soon any distinction between the harmless playing to the cameras - last season's spoof of Ray Lewis and the mock sideline blowup with Donovan McNabb - and the anti-social antics disappeared.

"He's a good friend," said 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson, a former teammate, after practice this week. "So I hate to say bad things about him, but sometimes he runs his mouth too much.

"He's not a bad guy, but it's like he forgets where he comes from. You heard Steve Young say it last week: When he first got here, it was yes sir, no sir, what do you need? Now, he's a whole different beast."

It's a beast that, like Rodman, seems far beyond the control of most men. Phil Jackson and Michael

Jordan could manage that beast, which helped the Bulls to three straight NBA titles. The Lakers and Mavericks tried the same thing and it took them down with him.

The Eagles, so desperate after three straight NFC title game losses, took a player they otherwise wouldn't have last season. The honeymoon ended when Owens, after surprising everyone by returning from ankle surgery to play exceedingly well in the Super Bowl, pinned some blame for the loss on McNabb.

"I wasn't the one who got tired," he said.

Then one thing led to another as Owens was unhappy with the contract he signed a year ago. First there were threats of a holdout, then promises that he would be a distraction (duh!). Then he labeled McNabb "a hypocrite," then Andy Reid kicked him out of camp, then there were the network sit-downs, then ...

Stay tuned.

"Am I surprised? Not one bit," said 49ers guard Jeremy Newberry, who played six seasons with Owens. "In the tough times, it seems like he'd always call one of his teammates out. Time and again, he did that here.

"If they had won the Super Bowl, you probably wouldn't have heard that. People need to take some blame for it and put it on their own shoulders sometimes, but that's not the case over there right now."

Newberry says he feels sorry for McNabb, Reid and other Eagles coaches he got to know playing in two Pro Bowls.

"You're trying to think about football in training camp and you've got a mike in your face everyday asking 'Hey, what do you think about this or that with T.O.,' " Newberry said. "It's a constant distraction."

And one that isn't going away.

The Eagles' first three games are in Atlanta (Owens' hometown and the place he mentioned he would like to be traded), San Francisco (the last team he left with a headache) and Oakland (where he and Moss can compare notes).

Said Raiders linebacker Derrick Burgess, who played in Philadelphia last year: "Knowing Coach Reid, he's not going to put up with too much that's going to be a distraction. I can't say how he's going to handle it, but it's going to be a way to stop the distraction, I know that much."

The best way to do that may be to just start playing games that count. The Eagles were 13-1 with him on the field last season and the only time Owens hasn't caused a scene - an obscene one, at least - is from snap to whistle.

Consider this, when wondering why the Eagles haven't sent him packing: The first play the Eagles ran in the preseason a year ago was an 81-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Owens. Their first play this year? A McNabb pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

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