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KR : With loss of Owens, history isn't on Eagles' side


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Posted on Fri, Nov. 11, 2005



Knight Ridder Newspapers

PHILADELPHIA - A reader called me on the carpet for characterizing Donovan McNabb's postgame comments Sunday as suggestive rather than declarative. He was right. McNabb didn't suggest the offense ran better without Terrell Owens. He said it did.

Which got me to thinking: Haven't we heard this before? Haven't we seen this before? A key player, often a perceived troublemaker, is removed from a team, ostensibly for the good of the team. The team says it can win without the player, and win at the same level it is accustomed.

But that's not what often happens.

Turns out the Lakers really did need Shaquille O'Neal. Ron Artest was suspended from the Pacers after last year's brawl with the Pistons, and Indiana slipped from the top seed in the East to sixth overall, slipped from being within a play or two from beating the Pistons in 2004 to easy fodder in last year's playoffs.

The Minnesota Vikings are 3-5 this season without Randy Moss. Daunte Culpepper, who had a breakout season just last year, was so erratic prior to his season-ending injury that fans up north now believe his backup, Brad Johnson, will make them better.

Local examples abound, too. Trading Charles Barkley didn't make the Sixers better. Losing Curt Schilling didn't help the Phillies either, although they were a struggling club even with ole' Bloody Sock.

And how about the moves that weren't made? Midway through the 2004 season, the Red Sox tried to give World Series Most Valuable Player Manny Ramirez and his big fat contract away. If there were a taker, would we still be talking about a curse?

And then there is the case of Allen Iverson, now in his 10th season with the 76ers. What would they look like today if Larry Brown had gotten his wish back in the summer of 2000? Would they have moved any closer to an NBA championship if he, Matt Geiger and Toni Kukoc were dealt for Glen Rice, Jerome Williams or Eddie Jones?

The knee-jerk answer is to say no way, but let's not forget that Brown was all about molding successful casts, as his success with the Sixers and Pistons has underlined. Three years later, Brown left Philadelphia and won a championship with Detroit, while Iverson has remained.

Basketball is not football. Owens was a great player on Sundays - even sold, in a brief amount of time, a lot of Eagles merchandise with his name on it. But at the end of the day, winning football is about building not just a system, but a culture. It's about building a universal team identity, even if the individuals who are its construction are widely varied in their makeup.

It is unlike any other major sport in that regard and much more akin to a military unit. The Eagles were blown out by the Cowboys and the Broncos with Owens on the team. At best, they are a work in progress - their defense, special teams and offense mere shadows of what they were a year ago.

Could a summer of sniping by No. 81 have caused all that? Or is this season the result of a series of poor management decisions, including the decision to neither give Owens what he wants nor cut him loose.

Perhaps the best comparison to the T.O. mess were the trials and tribulations the Flyers went through with Eric Lindros and the debatable impact his absence and return had on the team. Sidelined by a concussion that escalated the contentious relationship he and his family had with Flyers general manager Bob Clarke, Lindros watched as the Flyers rallied from a 2-0 hole in the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals to beat the Penguins in six games, and then take a 3-1 lead over the Devils in the Conference Finals.

As this took place, the media was fed with daily updates about his improved health until, between periods of one of the early Jersey games, he pronounced himself fit to play. Should the Flyers risk inserting him into a successful formula? After the Devils pulled to within 3-2 in games with a 4-1 victory, it was decided Lindros would play Game 6. He scored a goal, and would have had another if periods lasted 20 minutes and 1 second.

Instead, the Flyers lost 2-1, setting the stage for the infamous Scott Stevens hit early in Game 7.

We will never know if Lindros' return helped or hurt the Flyers. We do know that the team banded together in his absence, intent on proving they were a team, not a one-man show.

That's what the Eagles hope to do here.

Even if history doesn't seem to be on their side.

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