Back in the old (and good) days, the Eagles won games and scored points and reached NFC Championship Games without what anyone would call a "star" wide receiver. The likes of Todd Pinkston and James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell – and even Torrance Small, Charles Johnson and Antonio Freeman – didn't cut it in the minds of the critics, who just couldn't understand how a team that threw the football so much didn't go out and use a truckload of money in free agency on the position.
Then Owens came along in that magical spring of 2004 in a trade with San Francisco and for a year it was a match made in football heaven. Here was Owens, the supremely-talented wide receiver who needed to feel the love, and here was the greatest football city in the country ready to lavish all they had on No. 81. Never before had Eagles fans so generously opened their hearts, and never had Owens felt so appreciated, so wanted, so needed.
Well, you know how the fairy tale ended. Owens was injured, came back for a tremendous performance in the Super Bowl and then paved the road for his trip out of Philadelphia the next year with an all-time act of petulance and self-destruction.
Owens has played since then with Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati, his shine eroding just a little bit more with each passing season.
The Eagles, meanwhile, revamped the roster, stayed a good playoff team and a potent offense, and now look to the future with as bright a threesome in DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant as any team has. The only time people talk about the Eagles' receivers now is when they boast of the talent, of the youth, of the unlimited ceiling here. And, of course, of late, of how the Eagles would be a potential landing spot for veteran unrestricted free agent Plaxico Burress.
No longer do you hear that the Eagles' cupboard is bare at wide receiver. The Eagles hit it big in the 2008 draft by taking Jackson in the second round, and they came back a year later and selected Maclin in the first round of the draft.
The Eagles now have an explosive, high-scoring offense that, while it continues to look for upgrades, is loaded in every way, shape and form. A playoff team in 2010, the Eagles have big plans in mind when business opens again in the NFL. They see this roster as one that has the ability to win a Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history with some tweaks, and some additions here and there.
Owens, meanwhile, is at another career crossroads. At age 38, he is in the twilight of a brilliant career. And even though he spent just two seasons as an Eagle, his impact remains. He was as dominating a wide receiver as the Eagles have ever had. That 2004 season, prior to his broken ankle, was the stuff of legends. It was maybe the most fun Eagles fans have ever had as they fell in love head over heels with a player made normally-stoic head coach Andy Reid smile and joke and generally dip his press-conference toes into waters he doesn't touch.
And then Owens ruined it all. For everyone. Mostly, though, at the end of the day, near the end of his career, for him.
I always wondered how it would end for Owens. I knew him well when he was an Eagle and I saw first-hand how he imploded over the course of an offseason into the 2005 campaign. It was sad, tragic in a football sense and totally unnecessary. And stupid. Really, really stupid.
Had Owens done things the right way, the professional way, he would have set all kinds of records and the Eagles would have been a much better team. Instead, he played the role of the scorned superstar perfectly, ruining the cozy relationship he had with the Eagles, with the fans, with his coach.
In his post-Eagles days, Owens had moments of greatness and his numbers advanced to the point where, statistically, he is one of the greatest in the history of the game. The numbers, of course, don't tell all of Owens' deeds, nor do they detail the destruction he caused with his personality and his ego.
There is part of me, albeit a very small part, that wished for Owens to return and to atone for his immature, selfish ways and to help lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. I knew it would never happen. I could never visualize Reid taking back Owens after T.O. ran roughshod over Reid's trust. It was a remarkable story, after all, how Owens pleaded with Reid for the chance to be an Eagle, how he lobbied the head coach before Reid finally relented.
The story seems near its conclusion. Even with Owens' remarkable work ethic and temple of a body, a torn ACL requires months of rest and rehabilitation. Could Owens play in 2011? Maybe. If the projections are true and Owens is healthy in late November – a long shot, by my calculations – perhaps a team in dire need of a big-bodied receiver will give Owens a look.
Then again, perhaps not. And maybe the injury – confirmed by nobody in the Owens camp, by the way – signals the end of a career that never reached the length of Owens' all-world ability, it would be a shame to see it end so quietly, with such a whimper.
For all that he did to throw the Eagles off the tracks in 2005 and in the year or two after with the resulting fallout, Owens would have been better served to go out on his terms, in peace. There is a soft spot here for Owens after all this time, for he remains one of the most remarkable players to have suited up as an Eagle in the modern day.