Key to victory

STEVE MacFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

The question no longer is whether Terrell Owens will suit up for the Super Bowl but will T.O. be as productive as he claims?

Love him or hate him, Owens could be the key to victory for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yes, a good defence is necessary to win championships but it's offence that will decide this contest. And a weapon like T.O., even at less than 100%, makes the Eagles offence dangerous.

Philadelphia has other stars, most notably quarterback Donovan McNabb and running back Brian Westbrook, but Owens scored 14 touchdowns in fewer than 14 full regular-season games.

Receivers Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell, who started in Owens' absence, scored three TDs combined prior to the playoffs.

Mitchell -- a trash-talking bigmouth who is now shunning his own team's media rep because he didn't get his own podium on Media Day --has become so obnoxious since scoring a pair of playoff touchdowns against Minnesota, including a lucky fumble that bounced into his arms in the endzone, even T.O. haters are starting to long for the injured star's return.

Not as much as the team, though.

And not just for his skills on the field. Owens defying doctors, and maybe common sense, to return for the big game would be an emotional boost for a team that needs inspiration to beat the defending champion New England Patriots.

Philadelphia defensive tackle Corey Simon counts himself among the brash receiver's fans.

"T.O. is a great guy. He's been a terrific addition for not only what he brings on the field but for also what he brings off the field," Simon said this week.

"We have a pretty good relationship. He's one of those guys that is truly T.O. on Sundays and Terrell during the week. He's not that guy that everyone portrays him to be in the media. He's a pretty mild-mannered, calm guy."

Another mild-mannered, calm guy -- at least this season -- who has the reputation of being a dressing-room distraction will be the key to success for the New England offence.

Running back Corey Dillon, arguably the superstar on a star-filled team that takes pride in claiming it has no star players, joined the Patriots in the off-season after seven years with the hapless Cincinnati Bengals.

Despite Dillon's reportedly turbulent past, no negative stories have popped up about the workhorse this season. His pounding but potentially explosive running style helps the Pats kill the clock and pace the game while contributing to quarterback Tom Brady's deep strikes off play-action passes aimed at any of his speedy receivers.

But New England's star is 100% healthy, Philadelphia's is not.

Owens, although healed by the hand of God as he repeatedly claimed this week, will play at a self-assessed 85-90% Sunday after spending six weeks on the sidelines with a leg injury.

Many question his judgment but Owens has assessed the risk and believes he'll be more than just a decoy.

Watching him run routes in practice this week, it's hard to doubt him.

"My situation is not career threatening," said Owens.

"If I go out and re-injure myself, it can be fixed but I don't foresee that happening. There's risk every day. There was risk in us getting on that bus and coming over here. There was risk in us flying on that plane down here to Jacksonville. I don't worry about the risks. I'm here and I'm playing and that's it."

* NEW ENGLAND -7 VS. PHILADELPHIA: The Patriots twice have won Super Bowls by three points. Make it three. Patriots 34, Eagles 31.


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