Excuses, excuses

Updated: February 27, 2004, 12:06 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

This is the story of a dog ... let's call him Tippy, just for the hell of it.

Anyway, Tippy likes paper. More than bones, more than beef, more than your uncle's leg. Tippy loves paper.

And what Tippy loves most is paperwork sent by agents to the NFL office. Lately, Tippy has been a very busy dog indeed.

It seems that Tippy, the no-good, sneaky, paper-eating cur, has apparently grabbed, chewed and swallowed whole the free-agent filings of wide receivers Terrell Owens and Dennis Northcutt.

At least that's what we presume will be the claim of the agents representing Owens and Northcutt, who have filed grievances claiming that they got their paperwork in on time and are victims of some sort of evil, possibly canine-based, conspiracy.

The Owens snafu is particularly intriguing because his agent, David Joseph, is allegedly without any other clients. That therefore would mitigate against any claim he was too busy with other filings to double-check on Owens'.

Not only that, because the paperwork has gone missing, either to the Fax God or to Tippy's ink-stained digestive system, Owens must, unless he wins his grievance and his freedom, remain with the team he hates, playing for people he hates and catching balls from a quarterback he hates, for three more years.

That damned, vile, flea-riddled, vindictive dog.

Now we don't mean to dismiss Northcutt's claim of Felony Tippy, but the truth is that the endlessly squeaky wheel gets greased, and Northcutt isn't all that much of a problem child for the Cleveland Browns. Not much notoriety, not much complaining. He just wants to see if he can make a little more scratch playing somewhere else.

Owens, on the other hand, has been a rosebush in the 49ers' shorts for years now, his ability to catch footballs in line with his ability to transmit migraines across state lines.

He hates them, and they hate him, and now they may be welded at the belt buckle. Why, it's the perfect 21st century relationship, only without weapons.

The only thing preventing this shotgun re-marriage is the fact-finding process that will determine whether the screw-ups lie with some multi-thumbed aide, some Jessica Simpsonesque secretary, the vagaries of the information super-cul-de-sac, or Tippy, Hell's Own Spaniel.

Frankly, as it pertains to the Owens case, we're rooting for none of the above. Nothing is more likely to amuse us this coming fall quite like the specter of the 49ers in a three-way hostage situation, with head coach Dennis Erickson begging the other parties to shoot him first.

We don't want anyone off the hook here. First of all, the agent can always spare a dime to make sure that the forms arrived. Hell, they've got camera phones. They can call and SEE the stuff coming in.

Secondly, if the paperwork doesn't show up, and the 49ers do want Owens somewhere else, you'd think they might have called his agent and said, "Hey, Feb. 21 is coming up here, you nitwit. Nobody's seen your paperwork yet. Send it again, will you, so we can all get on with our lives."

Thirdly, if it gets lost on the other end, the agents can prove it easily enough, and can make the teams look like puddings.

Plus, why should baseball have all the whack-job fun?

Of course, it won't work that way. Blame will be delegated. Everyone will be just a victim of circumstance, and bad luck. Paul Tagliabue will tell someone in the league office, "Please get these people off the phone; I'm talking to Michael Powell over at the FCC about the Up With People retrospective."

And the grievances will probably be upheld, so that everyone goes away happy.

That is, except for Tippy, who will be damned forever for clearing out the in-box with his prehensile tongue. Tippy, the only thing with any sense here, will have everyone else turn state's evidence on him, if only because he can't bark a convincing defense.

Oh, well. It was a good thought, Tip. Your face, gullet, thorax, neck and stomach were all in the right place. Now, race over to the NHL offices. The trading deadline is coming soon.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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