Owens: Reid was open to bringing WR back

In his new book "T.O.," WR Terrell Owens suggests that QB Donovan McNabb kept the team from reinstating him.

Originally Published: July 13, 2006
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- On the night before an unprecedented NFL arbitration hearing at this city's overcrowded airport in November 2005, while lawyers charted their tactics and Eagles fans wondered whether their season was about to vanish, Andy Reid was on his cell phone talking to his problem child, Terrell Owens.

The call was an 11th-hour appeal by Owens, who was asking for forgiveness -- one last chance to rejoin the team and make things right. The conversation had been brokered by middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter -- ironically, the man thrown out for fighting prior to the Monday night opener against the Falcons.

Reid and Owens talked about how to avoid the arbitration hearing and how they would attempt to repair the wounded relationships between Owens, the organization, the coach and the quarterback, Donovan McNabb. "He ended the conversation by telling me to stay by the phone and he would call me back," Owens revealed in his new book, "T.O." (New York: Simon and Shuster). "He called back about an hour later. I don't know who he spoke to, but somebody killed it."

Somebody? As in McNabb?

In the book, Owens strongly suggests it was McNabb, but never directly writes that it was indeed the quarterback.

Terrell Owens
APTerrell Owens' marriage with the Eagles ended with a bitter divorce.

While Owens met with union attorneys at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott to go over the strategy and questioning for the Nov. 18 hearing, Trotter insisted he visited Owens in his hotel suite. Once he got to the hotel, Trotter told Owens he had talked to Reid and that Reid was open to one last peace offering.

So Owens called Reid and left a message. Reid called him back. "I let him know that I actually called Donovan last week to try to straighten things out," Owens writes, "but that Donovan hadn't called me back."

Reid hung up and Owens, as instructed, waited for the head coach to call back. That's when Reid told him "no deal." Owens describes his coach as "unhappy" and "apologetic."

A senior member of the Eagles organization confirmed on Wednesday that those phone calls between Reid and Owens on the night of Nov. 17, 2005 took place, and that Owens re-counting of what was said is accurate.

"Somebody told him not to take me back," Owens writes. He rules out the front office -- team owner Jeffrey Lurie and team president Joe Banner -- because he surmises that Reid has the upper hand in all football decisions. He doesn't believe it was Reid.

Which leaves the door wide open that the culprit was McNabb.

Reid's not saying. He's on vacation until training camp, which opens on July 25 for Eagles veterans. But a league official with direct knowledge of what transpired on the night of Nov. 17, told me on Wednesday: "Andy made the call."

Well, Reid may have made the call. But he made others in the organization aware of Owens' 11th-hour appeal. The question is whether he called McNabb, and if he did, what McNabb said.

As implausible as it seems, Owens' new book (co-authored with Jason Rosenhaus, the younger brother and partner of Drew Rosenhaus, Owens' agent) is filled with these never-told-before vignettes, which go behind the scenes of a soap opera that captivated professional sports for nearly two years.

Why is it implausible to think that Owens could break new ground here? Because reporters, commentators and ex-athletes from so many news platforms blanketed Owens' every move 24/7. And the protagonists in his all-consuming sideshow always seemed to be available and talking.

But there were critical information gaps at critical times. And in this new book, Owens -- if you can stomach his nauseating propensity for piousness and victimhood -- does an accurate and provocative job of filling in the blanks.

The inside stories specifically reveal nuances of what happened between Owens and McNabb. And they are shocking, not only because they are new, but because they are so petty.

It's hard to believe this is the basis for such a deep and lasting crack-up -- one that destroyed what could have been a record-breaking tandem of superstar talent, killed a promising Eagles season and sullied one of the NFL's premier franchises.

Here's how it all got started, according to Owens:

Even as the Eagles were cruising along with a 10-1 record in 2004, the petulant wide receiver was increasingly unhappy because McNabb refused to constantly feed him the ball, or simply misjudged where to throw the football -- depending on your interpretation of events.

On Nov. 28, 2004, at Giants Stadium, Owens finally said something to McNabb in the huddle after a play that was designed to go to Owens resulted in a short incomplete pass to a running back.

Owens writes that he said, "I was open. … Dude, you missed me."

McNabb's reply, according to Owens, "Shut the [bleep] up."

Owens writes that he was deeply offended by what McNabb said. "I felt like he had no right to talk to me that way," Owens writes. "After what happened on the play and in the huddle, I began to think that maybe he didn't want a co-host and maybe he didn't like me getting more attention."

From that point on, McNabb and Owens hardly said 10 words to each other -- for the remainder of the 2004 season, throughout the playoffs while Owens was injured and in rehab for a broken leg, and in Jacksonville, Fla., for Super Bowl XXXIX against the New England Patriots.

As we all know, a breakup to rival that of Lennon and McCartney ensued.

In the spring of 2005, Owens held out, demanding the Eagles redo his seven-year contract. He lashed out at McNabb, primarily because the leader of the team refused to come to his aid for more cash. Owens also told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli, "I wasn't the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl."

After a summer of total dysfunction, the 2005 season devolved into a divided locker room that culminated in a fight between Owens and retired defensive end Hugh Douglas, who Reid had just named "team ambassador."

This is another great scene in the book. The details are all there, and Douglas later confirms Owens' version during the hearing before the NFL arbitrator.

After the fight, on Nov. 7, 2005, Reid sent Owens a letter outlining six charges against the wide receiver and sent Owens home for the remainder of the season. Owens filed a grievance with the players' union and the hearing was scheduled for Nov. 18 at the Marriott.

The union thought it had a slam-dunk case. But as one lawyer told Owens, "you never know," so when Trotter came calling for détente, Owens jumped at the chance. After all, there was a lot of money at stake.

"[Andy Reid] ended the conversation by telling me to stay by the phone and he would call me back. He called back about an hour later. I don't know who he spoke to, but somebody killed it."
Terrell Owens writes in his book
Trotter was among those players who did not want to see Owens go. Owens glances over this fact in the book, but anybody who was around the team then knows that there was deep resentment -- some of it not too hidden -- toward McNabb about the way he was treating Owens.

On that team, McNabb is viewed as an extension of Reid. Read that to mean: management. Don't forget, Trotter and many others had seen the callousness of the front office when it came to contract renegotiations.

Why is this important now?

Well, for one, McNabb -- coming back from a groin injury and with Owens in Dallas -- has gone on a months-long campaign to tell his side of the story and reassert his authority in the locker room. If he killed the last-minute deal between Reid and Owens, McNabb has some explaining to do in his own locker room.

During the Super Bowl in Detroit, remember, McNabb claimed in an interview with ESPN's Michael Smith that what Owens did to him amounted to "black-on-black" crime. That's pretty serious stuff. And the accusation didn't go over big in Philly.

But McNabb said something else to Smith that may be far more telling about the dynamics within the Eagles' locker room:

"It put something in the back of my mind that you really learn a lot about people when things aren't going good," McNabb told Smith. "Comments, answers to questions, reactions -- you learn about people. I'm not here to call players out. They know who they are. … That nobody really came to my defense, that showed me something."

In his book, Owens spends nearly an entire chapter dissecting every word of that interview.

As the book winds down, this inescapable point is hammered home: While Owens has escaped to a fresh start with the Cowboys, McNabb knows he is still in Philadelphia trying to clean up the mess T.O. left behind.

Sal Paolantonio, who wrote about the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer during 1993-94, covers the NFL for ESPN.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.