As 20, 000 plus Eagles fans gather to watch a team with great expectations go through training camp everyday, their star free-agent, Terrell Owens, knows that he must play a crucial role in fulfilling those expectations. The Eagles fans are aware of this, as they shout out choruses of “T.O.” chants frequently during practices. They are aware of this as they camp out overnight to get Owens’ autograph. They are aware of this as they buy out the Eagles tickets for the entire season, in a matter of 20 minutes. When asked to comment on people camping out to get his autograph Owens said, “”I mean, I’m really learning what the Eagles fans are all about. That definitely shows their passion and their love for the game. I’m doing my best to display that when I’m on the field, display my love and passion for the game. They’re out there cheering for us, it’s a respect, they pay us respect to come out there and camp out. We try to do the same thing, just giving them something to cheer about when we are out there on that field.” When asked if the Eagles fans are the most passionate in the NFL Owens responded, “Definitely, by far. As far as being rowdy, the Raiders and the Eagles, they are neck and neck.”
Owens does not lack confidence, nor does he lack in ability. With 80 receptions for 1102 yards, and 9 touchdowns last season, he was 8th in the league. His quarterback, Jeff Garcia also ranked 8th in the league, in passing. This says one thing about the haughty receiver; as T.O. goes, so goes the team. Although his numbers may see a slight dip this season, as head coach Andy Reid likes to spread the ball out, the weight on his shoulders for this team’s success does not decrease at all. He will be expected to not only grab his share of balls, probably more than any Eagle Receiver in recent history, but he will be expected to open things up for the other Eagle Receivers. No Eagle receiver managed to catch more than 49 passes last season. This certainly speaks to Andy Reid’s tendency to spread the ball out, but also to the receiver’s lack of ability to get open.
Terrell knows he is viewed as the missing piece of the puzzle in getting the Eagles to the Super Bowl, after coming up short three years in a row. “That is part of the reason I am here, definitely part of the reason [DE Jevon] Kearse is here. I am just one of the marquee, or bigger pieces of the puzzle. They have gotten to the championship game without me, so I know my job is to help them get over the hump. I am definitely looking forward to the challenge.” It will be challenging indeed. In this era of parity in the NFL, getting to the NFC championship three times in a row is remarkable. To be expected to get there again, and win it, is a lofty goal. A goal, however, that Eagles fans will refuse to alter.
If the Birds look like anything less than a super bowl caliber team when this season starts, no doubt the Philly fans will begin to boo. Their will be no opportunity for this team to use the first few games to come together, gain chemistry, or get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. The over-under for T.O. drops before the boo-birds come out in Philadelphia is 3. The over-under for Donovan Mcnabb interceptions before the criticisms begin is 4. And the over-under for Eagles losses before the thumbs turn upside down on them is 1. After all, these are the fans who once booed Santa Claus, and now that Duce Staley has been acquired by the Steelers, there will be no mistaking those choruses of “booooos” for choruses of “Duuuuce.”
These expectations do not just come from the fans, or from the Eagles recent success, but from NFL previews, media “experts”, and simply from how their statistics and personnel look on paper. They certainly will not be able to sneak up on anybody this year, and they will play every game with a bull’s eye on their backs.
The fans in Philadelphia do not care if Terrell Owens calls out former teammates on their sexual orientation. They do not care whether the accent goes on the beginning of his name or the end. They do not care if he openly despises the mandatory team rule, requiring all players to wear shorts over their tights during training camp. They do not even care about his history of touchdown celebrations, and his sure intentions on creating some new ones for this upcoming season. What they do care about is that he forms the missing piece of the Eagle’s Super Bowl puzzle. T.O. is confident that he will. The fans are confident that he has to. The media in this town is confident that if he does not, their will be some serious booing.