This article was originally published in the Inquirer on March 17, 2004.
The temptation is to call Terrell Owens' arrival last night at the NovaCare Complex a happy ending to the Eagles' surreal 12-day journey to acquire the NFL's most talented wide receiver available.
In truth, it was nothing more than a happy beginning.
The Eagles and Owens are married now, and the first day of the honeymoon went splendidly.
After Owens signed a seven-year contract that included a $10 million signing bonus and was worth between $46 million and $48 million, the wide receiver, coach Andy Reid, and owner Jeffrey Lurie smiled for the cameras.
Twelve days after completing a contract negotiation with the controversial receiver, the Eagles finally struck a deal that made his arrival a reality. After being contacted by the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens on Monday afternoon, the three teams completed a trade yesterday morning.
San Francisco sent the second-round pick it acquired in a March 4 trade with Baltimore back to the Ravens, then traded Owens to the Eagles for defensive end Brandon Whiting. The Ravens also got a fifth-round pick from the Eagles.
The impetus for the trade was the hearing Monday at the University of Pennsylvania during which the NFL Players Association presented a case that left little doubt that the initial trade between the 49ers and Ravens was going to be overturned and Owens was going to be declared a free agent.
Only the Eagles and Owens had reason to smile yesterday, and they did so brightly.
When the wide receiver corrected Reid's pronunciation of his first name - it's TURL not Ter-RELL - the coach laughed. When the coach was asked whether he would alter his "spread-the-ball-around" offense, Reid admitted that the presence of a superstar receiver could change some things.
"With good football players, you try to exploit their talents," Reid said. "If that means the ball goes to Terrell more, then that's what will happen. "
You almost felt like T.O. could have gotten away with a fat joke as he sat next to the coach on the auditorium stage while Lurie grinned about his team's good fortune.
In the two weeks since the free-agency and trading periods opened, the Eagles have added Owens, defensive end Jevon Kearse from the Titans, and linebacker Dhani Jones from the Giants. Those moves have left only a few rumblings about the free-agent departures of running back Duce Staley, linebacker Carlos Emmons, and cornerback Troy Vincent.
Lurie hasn't been this popular in fan polls since he bought the team from Norman Braman a decade ago. When asked whether he had become the George Steinbrenner of the NFL, Lurie smiled.
"I think there's that in me," he said. "I was as bullish as anyone when I heard we were going after Jevon and Terrell. My approach is 'Let's do that and what more can we do? ' I have to be held back sometimes. "
The Eagles' aggressive approach to this off-season is definitely different, and not just because they have spent more than $110 million to secure arguably the best defensive and best offensive player available. They have spent before. See: Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins.
What's really different is that they welcomed a man known for creating more turbulence than a bad pocket of air at 25,000 feet. Owens said his landing at Philadelphia International Airport was tough last night.
"I think we hit some black ice," he said.
Some in San Francisco would argue that Owens' presence in an NFL locker room can be like a black cloud. Rest assured, Jeff Garcia, Steve Mariucci and Greg Knapp weren't on the wide receiver's list of references when he started his campaign to join McNabb and the Eagles.
When asked about touchdown celebrations with pompoms and Sharpie markers, Owens smiled and glanced at Reid. He admitted that the two celebrations on the Dallas Cowboys' logo at Texas Stadium probably crossed the line.
"Those were some of the concerns the coach had," Owens said. "They came up when I was talking to him. I think he liked the pompoms. "
Reid reacted with a sincere laugh.
Earlier, the coach said he was attracted to Owens' work ethic as much as his talent.
"He has a passion for the game, and that's something I like," Reid said. "I don't mind the personality. He understands how we are and how we operate. The No. 1 thing about this guy is his work ethic. That really jumped out at me at the Pro Bowls. You always heard about Jerry Rice's work ethic, but I've heard that Terrell took it to another level. "
The Eagles, of course, have been trying to take their season to another level for three consecutive years. They have been one victory away from a Super Bowl for three straight years. Eagles fans would argue they were one good receiver away from the big game this year.
James Thrash and Todd Pinkston have been publicly ridiculed since combining for one catch in the NFC championship loss to the Carolina Panthers. They combined for 85 catches and three touchdowns last year during the regular season. Owens had 80 catches and nine touchdowns in what was considered a down year for him.
A lot of people believe that Owens is the missing piece that can get the Eagles past the NFC championship barrier. That's why he was so well-received yesterday. The Eagles feel as though they landed a supermodel to go along with their superstar quarterback and Brian Westbrook, their emerging young running back.
We're in the honeymoon stage of this relationship. This is the third marriage for Owens. He lasted eight controversial years with the 49ers and 12 chaotic days with the Ravens.
"I think this is a new beginning," Owens said. "It's a fresh start. I have a clean rap sheet right now. "