There's a story afoot

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

One Philadelphia Eagles receiver had already put his foot in his mouth.

Another has earned the reputation of hearing footsteps whenever he crosses the middle of the field.

And yesterday, a third gingerly tried to put his best foot forward.

Before the hype of Super Bowl could get too far-fetched though, a legitimate football angle reared up yesterday here in Jacksonville.

Terrell Owens, the third of the above cited receivers, practised for the first time since suffering a broken fibula on Dec. 19. He may not even play against the New England Patriots on Sunday when Bowl XXXIX finally kicks off, but with his appearance yesterday at the University of North Florida, a different kind of game has officially begun.

Unlike the Freddie Mitchell maelstrom, in which the diplomacy-challenged receiver ripped (sort of) the Patriots secondary on the weekend, the saga of Owens may have some real relevance to what happens at Alltel Stadium.

With the cocksure receiver, the Eagles are an intriguing seven-point underdog.

Without Owens and with Mitchell a marked man plus Todd Pinkston nursing a reputation of not wanting to get hit, the Eagles carry the odour of blowout material.

"We limited what he did and he did it well and he did it with the team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said after his team's 70-minute workout on a chilly day in north Florida.

"He moved around pretty well. We'll see how he continues, how he feels tomorrow and the rest of the week."

The early hunch is that Owens will defy the orders of doctors, who last week said he couldn't play. In reality, he'll be a game-time decision, but clearly that element of elusiveness adds to his usefulness.

T.O. will certainly be a decoy when he takes centre stage this morning at the annual spectacle known as Super Bowl media day. Whether or not he is just a decoy on the field, the Patriots now must be prepared to face him defensively.

"It was nice to see him out there," Eagles centre Hank Fraley said of Owens after the practice. "He looked good running routes and he caught a few balls."

In case you're wondering, Fraley has a pulse. He's just following what appears to be marching orders from his coach. Reid was even more dour than usual when Mitchell went on his perplexing rant.

NOT TALKING

"I'm not going to cover that, but we have communicated," Reid said of his feelings and dealings with Mitchell.

It's clear the coach also has communicated with the rest of his players, decreeing that Owens will be neither the focus of their attention nor their comments to the media.

So this is what the Eagles had to say about their celebrated teammate, a guy who has to be feared more for his 14 touchdowns than ridiculed for his Desperate Housewifes skit.

Donovan McNabb, quarterback: "You can't win with just one person out there."

Corey Simon, defensive tackle: "We understand this is a team, no one player is bigger than anybody else."

Fraley: "He's just part of it. We treat everyone the same."

That may be true, but that team is not the same without a big-play playmaker like No. 81 in the lineup. Mitchell will be a marked man and no one would be surprised if Pinkston, a notoriously soft receiver, barely shows up.

And best of all as the game creeps closer, at least there's some action to go with all the T.O. talk.


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