Owens needs an audience for his show

Updated: August 12, 2005, 7:46 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

This is so Terrell Owens, a slight modification on the central theme, "I Can Wait You Out Because You Need Me So Much." I mean, the push-ups and shooting hoops in front of the house were a nice touch, but then again, nobody who pays any attention to the subject has ever accused Owens of being tactically inept. He gets what he wants before you get what you want, and the rest is just dinner theater.

T.O.'s tale
Terrell Owens told ESPN's Chris Berman his side of his recent falling out with the Eagles and coach Andy Reid.
• Owens tells his side ESPN Motion

He did this in San Francisco, where his complaints were about the quality and quantity of his surroundings. He did this in Baltimore, at least for the nanosecond he stayed there. And now, with his Super Bowl performance at his back and Todd Pinkston up on blocks, he is doing it with a flourish in Philadelphia.

Frankly, though, we worry that he might be peaking too early. He is playing the full theatrics card in training camp rather than during the season; in San Francisco his dissatisfaction typically manifested itself during games (short-arming balls and running halfhearted routes) and after them (when he either refused to speak to the media or spoke with great Úlan about how the team was preventing him from achieving his true greatness).

But this ... this is way too early in the process for the walkout and driveway show. Because, as a strictly tactical matter, you have to have something in reserve for the next outrage committed against you, and at this point, he is down to either playing with his pants down or setting fire to the equipment room.

Now we're not even involving ourselves in the should-he-get-more-money-or-honor-his-contract argument. We're not even touching the Eagles-need-him-or-they-finish-8-8 debate, let alone the Joe-Banner-would-rather-lose-without-him-than-give-in tavern fight.

Terrell Owens
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWe won't be seeing TO in an Eagles uniform any time soon. Or will we?

This is strictly about the quality of Owens' protest, and unless he has choreographed this with a reality TV producer, he might run out of the good stuff before the season even starts.

You see, Owens is an actor, and actors need a stage and a script. He cannot help himself; this is pathological as well as strategic. His ability to get his new deal is largely dependent not upon his talent but upon his ability to irritate the people with the money so much that they will pay him to shut up.

He believes it, and frankly, so do the Eagles. The question on the table, though, is how much the Eagles are willing to be irritated. And for that, Owens needs to be front and center -- because he craves it and because without it, he loses a large part of his leverage.

To be front and center, then, he needs to ratchet up his look-at-me incrementally rather than all at once, and it's incredibly difficult work. Dennis Rodman did it well for a fairly long time (the tattoos, the hair, Michael Jordan at his back, etc.), but once he hit the far edge of Weirdball City, his decline came swiftly and surely.

So it is with Owens, if he isn't careful. He is driving the car here, and he has to keep brushing the guardrail without breaking the car or hurtling into a gully. Because there is a third rail out there somewhere, at which point he loses his allies in the public and becomes just a guy who lost his mind and blew $49 million to become irrelevant (see Rodman in San Antonio, see Rodman with the Lakers).

This is something his agent, Drew (Why, Yes, It Is All About Me, Now That You Ask) Rosenhaus, cannot help Owens with, for Owens listens to his own inner muse when it comes to cranking the boss. Owens has a sense of his own gift here, and he is betting that, as a virtuoso of the irritatory arts, he can make the Eagles pull off their own heads even as they offer him a new deal.

And the Eagles so far are giving every indication that their heads are bolted on with Frankensteinian efficiency.

Which is where we are now -- Owens needing to come up with a new shtick, slightly better than the last one, and soon, because in his world, a week without an ostentatious act is a week that can never be regained. In fact, he might need to return to camp just because that's where the audience is.

I mean, nobody's going to watch him mulching the front lawn and feel the urge for worker solidarity, if you know what we mean, and we think you do.

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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