The Dallas Cowboys will face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football with the early lead in the NFC East on the line. Although both teams have significant postseason ambitions, the storyline that many people will focus on involves two players who will not be on the field at the same time: Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb. When Owens was an Eagle, the team made just the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history and--despite playing with a broken ankle--Owens was arguably the best player on the field during Super Bowl XXXIX, which the Eagles lost 24-21 to the New England Patriots. Owens had nine receptions for 122 yards. McNabb went 30-51 for 357 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXIX but he also threw three costly interceptions and he did not distinguish himself down the stretch in a very winnable contest. During the next season, Owens and the Eagles had a huge falling out that ultimately resulted in Owens landing in Dallas.
Ashley Fox of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the Eagles should have done more to retain Owens' services:
It didn't have to be this way. It didn't have to come down to falling in love with a 21-year-old out of California who has blistering speed and a monster ego, two valued commodities among football fans in this town. There's a lot to love about DeSean Jackson--the 40-yard dash time, the hands, the bravado, the instincts--but the Eagles shouldn't have to rely on a rookie to be their playmaker at wide receiver.
They had one. For a brief moment, they had it all. It could have worked. It should have worked. Had there been better communication from all involved, the Eagles might have a Lombardi Trophy by now. But as we all know, the Eagles' relationship with Terrell Owens ended in the nastiest of divorces, all because the parties involved--including Andy Reid, Owens, Donovan McNabb, and, yes, even the loquacious Hugh Douglas--failed to talk, air their grievances like men, and, ultimately, put in the work to save the marriage.
Shame on them all.
According to Fox, Douglas said, "I think there should have been more communication all the way around, just get everybody to air everything out. It takes nothing to say, 'Listen, I don't know what I did to [tick] you off, but whatever it is, can we just talk about it because we're trying to win football games?' At the end of the day, that's what needed to happen, because it would have been so much better. It's good now. You've got DeSean and everything. He potentially could be a pretty good receiver, but man, you just never know. We're talking two Hall of Famers [McNabb and Owens]. We're talking about two potential Hall of Famers. There should have been a way to work it out, because at the end of the day, the bottom line is you want to win, and if your egos can't survive that, what can you do?"
Douglas also noted that the Cowboys did not apparently have to do anything particularly extraordinary to turn Owens into a very happy--and productive--player: "To be honest, I don't know what they did down there, but it don't seem like they had to do a whole lot. Appease him, throw him some cash, which he deserved. I mean, hell, he left here and went to the Pro Bowl. He's a tough cat, man. He played with a broken hand. Tough cat."
On Thursday afternoon, Owens offered a very candid take on exactly why his relationship with McNabb turned sour:
"We obviously could have done some great things together but it wasn't me letting my pride get in the way." Owens believes that his popularity made McNabb jealous, claiming that at first he had a good rapport with McNabb, much like he has now with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo: "Well, I was really thinking that was the case in Philly before I think the fans and just the excitement of me coming there and being there, it became too overwhelming for Donovan. Other than that, I think at one point in time I will say that we had a good relationship. I think I got too big for Philly, too big for him. But here, Tony and I have a great relationship...I think everybody knows without harping on it too much. It is what it is. I can only do so much. Everywhere that I've gone, the cameras follow me. I'm going to get a great deal of fan support and a fan base. As I mentioned in the conference call [with Philadelphia media] earlier, I can remember being in that stadium and hearing them chanting my name. That couldn't bode well for Donovan to hear that. It was an every-week thing...I honestly can say that Donovan made me a better receiver in Philly but I think it would be hard for him to admit that I made him a better quarterback." With Owens as his primary target (77 receptions, 1200 yards, 15.6 yard per catch, 14 touchdowns in 14 games) McNabb had the best season of his career in 2004, posting career-highs in completion percentage (.640), yards (3875), touchdown passes (31) and passer rating (104.7). Those numbers shatter the second best marks of his career in those categories (.615, 3365, 25 and 95.5 respectively). In contrast, playing with various other quarterbacks Owens has had several seasons that were better than his 2004 production, so it is pretty clear that Owens helped McNabb a lot more than McNabb helped Owens.
When a reporter noted that the Eagles dominated the NFC when Owens was in Philadelphia but last year Owens' Cowboys had the conference's best record, Owens replied, "The common denominator was me being in both places, but I will let you make that assessment."