Fans: 'We're gonna give you hell, but we still love you'
Notorious for their boorish behavior, many fans booed the disgruntled All-Pro receiver and some taunted Owens during Wednesday morning's practice at Lehigh University.
But it took just a simple smile and a little interaction for Owens to win them over again.
"This ain't San Francisco," one fan yelled as Owens knelt along the sidelines, listening to the derisive jeers. "You ain't bigger than this team. Shut up and play."
They took their best shots, and scolded Owens for hiring agent Drew Rosenhaus.
Finally, Owens stood up, turned to the crowd, cracked a smile and pumped his left arm up, urging them to make more noise.
The fans suddenly erupted in cheers and the same guy who was riding Owens the loudest started chanting the "T.O." song. Owens flashed a wider grin, nodded his head in approval and walked back toward the field.
In his first public comments since arriving at camp, Owens told a Philadelphia television station that his family's support was pivotal in his decision to report.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here," Owens told WPVI. "And God put me in the situation to go out here and still play the game, that's why I'm here.
"They said to stay strong throughout everything. They know it is not fair and we're honest about it."
Asked if he would give full effort despite his unhappiness, Owens said, "I'm here in camp and that's all I can say."
Wednesday was the first time this summer fans could see Owens practice, and some of the Philly die-hards started lining up at 4 a.m. just to get a glimpse of him running patterns with the NFC champions.
Owens was wildly popular in his first season in Philadelphia, helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years. But Owens lost many supporters when he and Rosenhaus began loudly protesting for a new contract just one season into the seven-year, $48.97 million deal he signed after coming to the Eagles in March 2004.
When Owens emerged from the locker room for the morning practice, fans booed. As he jogged onto the field and closer toward the crowd, many of the boos turned to cheers.
The boos were loud when Owens dropped a pass early in the drills. They were louder when Owens first went to the sidelines and stood -- no coincidence -- away from quarterback Donovan McNabb.
But the fans couldn't resist giving Owens some love once he showed them he was listening to their remarks.
"We're gonna give you hell, but we still love you, T.O.," a fan screamed.
Owens refused to speak to reporters for the third straight day, and hardly talked much with his teammates. He nearly started a riot when he tossed a towel into the stands, though.
"He looked good," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
Asked his thoughts on the crowd's reaction to Owens, Reid said: "I didn't notice anything."
He wasn't the only one.
"When I'm on the field, my main focus is to make as many plays as possible," said McNabb, who squabbled with Owens in the offseason.
The other receivers certainly heard the fans.
"It doesn't affect us and it doesn't affect T.O.," wideout Greg Lewis said.
McNabb reiterated he doesn't have a problem with Owens, though it seemed the two stars purposely stayed away from each other. McNabb threw a crisp, long pass to Owens at one point, and even was his lead blocker on an end-around early on.
"I don't think you particularly have to like the individual or hang out with the individual," McNabb said. "I think you have to have a good business relationship. It's funny how the assumptions come out for us and our situation. Everyone said last year how we were just the best of friends, and we were hanging out and doing everything. We had a good business relationship then, and we have a good business relationship now."
Owens started the friction when he took a shot at McNabb, saying he "wasn't the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl."
McNabb responded with harsh words, insisting he didn't get sick and wasn't tired in the fourth quarter of the 24-21 loss to New England.
The two still haven't sat down for a face-to-face chat.
"I don't want a private moment. It's not needed," McNabb said.
: Reid had no update on Brian Westbrook's contract situation. The Pro Bowl running back was a surprise holdout on Monday. "I think that it is very important to come in and get your timing down," Reid said. "You get your legs and your wind, get used to the heat and so on."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press