By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

OK, so Terrell Owens and Andy Reid aren't talking. How did this impasse come about? Let's consider the possible scenarios:

A) Owens, as reported, dropped a naughty word on Reid, offending the delicate sensibilities of a man who assuredly has never heard such coarse language in his current line of work.

B) Coach and player got into a heated row over Owens' impromptu driveway sit-up technique.

C) Coach and player, as Owens describes it, got into a You Shut Up, No You Shut Up tête-à-tête, of which no good can ever come.

D) Reid sent Owens home to play Madden NFL '06.

Terrell Owens
Seems like T.O. always has a mob of reporters around him.

Personally, I favor D. Whatever the case, the mercurial receiver has been suspended from training camp for a full week -- an alarming development which leaves me shaken. Frustrated. Downright fearful for the future, if not cowering under a school desk, waiting for the air raid sirens to cease.

And to think: I couldn't care less about the Philadelphia Eagles.

To the contrary, I'm worried about my team. The media. The boys and girls with empty notebooks, blank tapes, looming deadlines. The newspapers and networks for whom Owens is akin to oxygen, and only slightly less vital than a steady stream of advertising revenue.

Without our go-to guy, who on Earth are we supposed to write and squawk about?

The space shuttle?

The runaway bride mowing a lawn?

Brian Westbrook?

You may suspect I'm joking. Au contraire. Understand this: Sports journalism isn't exactly Upton Sinclair territory. Most of the time, it isn't even US Weekly territory. We cover grown men tossing balls for a living; consequently, we trade in spectacle and snap judgments, easy outrage and throwaway sanctimony. Terrell Owens is a selfish, team-killing cancer! Nice abs! Come story time, good and bad are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is heat, the hotter the better.

In a TiVoed world of countless blogs and cell phone poker, will people pay attention?

Will they care enough to yell about it?

Will they care enough to watch sportswriters yell about it on television … and stick around for a faux Jamaican guy hawking beer?

For us big, bad, biased baloney-mongers in the press -- in reality, a bunch of ordinary people trying to trip over the next "American Idol" before we get canned and replaced by Andy Milonakis -- such are the questions that matter most. And with Owens, the answer is always a blissful affirmative.

Hey -- you're reading this, right?

Like his team, Owens may have been shut out at the Super Bowl. But it's no understatement to call him sports media's reigning MVP, a prime-time performer whose sheer longevity dwarfs hot-button wannabes like Kenny Rogers and Ron Artest.

Remember when Artest was putting the finishing touches on the decline and fall of Western civilization? Or when Rogers was handing him the detail brush? Right. Me neither.

In a fit of uncharacteristic modesty, Reggie Jackson once dubbed himself the Straw That Stirs The Drink. In the here and now, Owens is the Ink That Makes The Headline, the undisputed king of manufactured controversy.

Indeed, it's always something with T.O., and gloriously so: the Sharpie in the sock; blowing off Baltimore; spiking the Dallas star; the miracle ankle; noting that he wasn't the one who got tired during the Super Bowl; questioning the heterosexuality of an ex-teammate who just happens to be dating a Playmate.

Honestly, who else but Owens could make the inimitably irritating Drew Rosenhaus so visible, so omnipresent that at this rate,he'll probably end up on the cover of next year's Madden?

Answer? No one, save the people who managed Tom Cruise's recent publicity tour. Which is why I miss Owens already. And why I fret for my profession. It's not that we're lacking other stories to cover -- between Rafael Palmeiro and fantasy football guides, that's at least two weeks of deceased equine abuse. Giddyup! No, the real problem is the same one facing SUV Nation at the gas pump: our insatiable demand outstrips supply.

Terrell Owens
They eat it up, whether he's doing sit-ups or taking jump shots.

What, you think a Kobe Goes To Colorado happens every week?

Once upon a time, there were three networks and one ESPN. The Internet was a gleam in Al Gore's eye. Fuel-efficient import cars and a tape-delayed NBA Finals sufficed. But no longer. In a 24-7 era when "The Ocho" is less a joke than manifest destiny, sports expansion -- and that includes the pyramid-scheme NHL -- simply hasn't kept up with media growth.

Think about it: We created the X Games, televised poker, the Laureus World Sports Awards, dogs long-jumping into ponds. Oh, and somebody greenlighted the XFL. Still, the programming beast remains hungry. A fragmented audience means fewer stories have genuine mass appeal. As such, a proven attention magnet like Owens is worth his weight in diamonds.

Fortunately, T.O. seems to grasp this intuitively. Maybe he's just a narcissist. Either way, Owens is good for the Fourth Estate, and even better for our bottom line. On Wednesday, after leaving training camp, Owens traveled to his New Jersey home. A media gaggle quickly assembled.

With helicopters overhead and every microphone not stationed in Aruba surrounding him, Owens worked out on his front lawn, answering questions while popping off crunches.

If you knew Westbrook was going to hold out, would that have changed your decision?

"No comment."

Do you think today's proceedings were unfair, what took place?

"No comment."

Do you usually do sit-ups in your driveway?

"Yeah, I figured since you guys were out here, I didn't want you guys just looking at my house."

Bravo. Don't look at the house. Look at me. I'm shirtless! Any athlete can say nothing; most, if the mood strikes, can say something newsworthy. Only Owens manages to say nothing, yet do it in a newsworthy way that makes him a lead story from coast-to-coast.

Compelling visuals? Check.

Humorous sound bite? Check.

Leave 'em wanting more? Double check.

For those of us in the chattering class, that's a walk-off shot, an All-Star effort, the difference between a poser provocateur like Freddie Mitchell and, well, Owens.

Had I not been sitting on my couch at the time, I might have swooned.

Hi, boss? Listen, T.O. just asked a camera guy to keep track of his biceps curls. I think there were neighborhood kids in the background. Who cares if the season is a month away? I know what I'm writing about for Friday.

I'll admit it. I'm selfish. I don't care if Owens gets more money from the Eagles, any more than I care if the team holds fast to his current contract. Ideally, both sides will squabble indefinitely, since conflict makes for drama, and drama makes for easy columns.

Better yet, I'd like to see Owens get his own network. A guy can dream, can't he?

Thing is, I know I'm not alone. I know my colleagues will miss the suspended receiver. I know the public will miss him, too. After all, audience interest dictates the news -- and if broadcast ubiquity is any indication, the only thing more refreshing than Jamaican beer is another Owens story.

With that in mind, I think I speak for everyone involved when I wish T.O. a speedy return. Hurry back, amigo. Don't leave us hanging. And if you get the urge to knock out a few crunches in the meantime, you know where to find us. Just look for the cameras and notebooks on your front lawn.

Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.



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HURRY BACK, T.O.