Trainer: Training regimen will be gradual

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Terrell Owens strolled onto the field,
claiming a podium near the 25-yard line. It would have been more
appropriate to put him right in the middle of the field.

T.O. was clearly in his comfort zone Tuesday at the Super Bowl's
media extravaganza -- the center of attention, the star of the show,
the guy making all the news.

And say this about the Philadelphia Eagles' All-Pro receiver: He
didn't leave anyone in suspense. Less than a minute after the tape
recorders and cameras began rolling, Owens made his pronouncement.

"I will play on Sunday," he said, relishing the moment as he
gazed out at some 100 members of the media hanging on his every

Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder plans to use about a half-hour of Wednesday's
practice to work with Owens on stability and balance, followed by a
short run. It's a delicate balancing act -- working the player hard
enough to determine if he can play, but not hard enough to hinder a
recovery process that still has a few precious days to run.

"He's like Smarty Jones," Burkholder said. "I'm riding him
through the week, and we're going to get him to the gate on Sunday
and hopefully turn him loose. But you have to ride him right. You
can't run him into the ground Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,
because he won't be worth anything Sunday."

Both Owens and Burkholder pooh-poohed
the risk of doing career-threatening damage by coming back too soon
-- even though the doctor, Mark Myerson, who performed the surgery, refused to give
his blessing for Owens to play in the Super Bowl.

"I'm not really concerned about the medical risks," the
receiver said. "Even if I go out and re-injure myself, it can be

Owens said he won't even wear a brace. Just a light tape job
should be enough to hold the ankle together.

"There are risks every day," he said. "It was a risk coming
over here today on the bus. It was a risk flying to Jacksonville
for this game."

Then, transforming the podium into a pulpit, Owens put on an
hourlong performance that was part Ali, part Reverend Ike -- and
pure T.O.

"If you don't believe in miracles," he said, "just wait until

Adorned with diamonds in each ear and a matching bracelet, Owens
let the conversation flow in all sorts of directions. At times, he
sounded downright humble while crediting a strong religious faith
for hastening the recovery of his right knee and ankle.

"God brought me here for a reason," he said.

During one of his recent visits with a pastor, Owens said he learned something about himself.

"I had a talk with a pastor last week and it hit home with me," Owens said. "He said he was praying about me and my name kept flashing in his mind. He told me controversy is the plan and the map God made me to be. I can't really change that. Controversy was with me in San Francisco. I felt I could start in a clean slate in Philadelphia but it's still following me."

But those were only momentary interludes. For the most part,
Owens was at his bombastic best, saying he has no intention of
being a decoy and embracing the controversy that seems to follow
him around like a cornerback in a man-to-man defense. From Sharpies
in the socks to towel-clad actresses in the locker room, it's all
good in T.O.'s world.

"I can't change who I am," he said. "I am who I am."

The New England Patriots, with victories in two of the last
three Super Bowls and on the cusp of becoming a full-fledged
dynasty, had to settle for a supporting role on this day.

Owens was the star.

"It shows what kind of guy he is," said Troy Brown, the
Patriots' receiver and nickel back. "He came to Philly because he
wanted to play in this game. To see him out there running around,
well, I've got to take my hat off to the guy."

Owens was in the midst of his most satisfying season when he was
dragged down from behind in a Dec. 19 game against Dallas, his leg
twisting grotesquely in the wrong direction.

The grim diagnosis: a severely sprained ankle, two torn
ligaments, a fractured fibula. During surgery, two screws and a
metal plate were needed to put it all back together. Owens' hopes
of playing in the Super Bowl -- the very reason he signed with
Philadelphia after eight years in San Francisco -- appeared to have
been snatched away.

Now, just over six weeks later, Owens claims that his ankle
feels like nothing more than a normal sprain, the kind that players
deal with every week in such a brutal sport.

"Obviously, it's a good story for the Super Bowl: Will he play
or won't he?" Owens said. "Well, I'm here, I going to play and
that's it."

If Owens does play, look for New England to measure his fitness
at every opportunity.

"Oh, I would test him," said Hall of Fame quarterback Terry
Bradshaw, who is part of Fox's pregame show. "I would get in his
face. I would jam him. I would double up, go over the top, make him
work hard."

While no one can dispute Owens' courage and passion, it would be
foolhardy for him to play if he's not healthy. He certainly
wouldn't be doing his team any good if he trotted on the field with
just one healthy leg.

"Come on, he's got a plate in his leg and screws in his
ankle," Bradshaw said. "I just want to believe that he's not
going to hurt his football team, because they've done pretty well
without him."

Myerson, has discouraged him from playing. NBA player Grant Hill, who had ankle surgeries from Myerson, suggested Owens shouldn't play if Myerson won't clear him.

"I'm not Grant Hill," Owens said. "This isn't Grant Hill's ankle."

With Owens, the Eagles won 13 of their first 14 regular-season
games. Without Owens, they beat Minnesota and Atlanta in the
playoffs, finally reaching the Super Bowl after three straight
losses in the NFC championship game.

Nonetheless, Owens' teammates were happy to hear that he plans
to play Sunday.

"He did make some big plays for us," quarterback Donovan
McNabb said. "He did an excellent job of coming in and presenting
a different type of feel for our passing attack."

Added linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, "If T.O. says he's going to
play, he's going to play. T.O. is going to be just fine. I think
T.O. is going to come out and surprise a lot of people."

About the only complaint Owens had was the weather -- cloudy,
breezy and temperatures in the 50s. Showing up for media day
wearing a short-sleeve jersey, he sat shivering in his chair while
goosebumps popped up on his massive biceps.

"Man, it's cold here in Jacksonville," he grumbled.

But the ankle feels just fine.

"I'm 81 percent healthy," he said, a nod to his uniform
number. "On Sunday, I'll be 181 percent."

Information from ESPN.com's John Clayton and The Associated Press was used in this report.