GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Life is good.
The Bengals are as hot as the summer of 2010. They are undefeated and drawing fans instead of heat. In the last week with the signing of wide receiver Terrell Owens they have become one of the NFL’s chic topics and on Sunday VH1’s Team plays America’s Team in the Hall of Fame Game.
It’s all good.
After Monday morning’s sweltering practice, Owens paused in the shade underneath the stands to spend his first 19 minutes and 22 seconds with Bengals.com and laughed when told he should have put a training camp attendance clause in his incentive-laden contract.
“I know that everywhere I’ve been I’ve been able to increase the attendance of every training camp,” Owens said. “So whatever it may be. Maybe it’s the sunshine. I don’t know.”
If there has ever been a match, this is it. A guy that thinks he’s been inaccurately portrayed in the media joins a roster of guys that also felt it was misunderstood. But the Bengals gave the pundits something to think about when they pulled together to win a very gritty AFC North title last season. A 6-0 sweep that couldn’t have come out of any dysfunctional ward.
“I could care less. They can say I’m this way or that way all you want,” Owens said. “All I know is go dig up a rap sheet on me and when you find it, come find me. That’s what I say.”
On Marvin Lewis: “He’s quiet. I think he’s probably observing me from afar.”
On his real incentives: “I definitely took a pay cut to grasp the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Like I said I know I’m worth more than what I’m being paid. But I’m here playing with my good friend Chad and playing with a team that definitely has an opportunity to win the Super Bowl.”
Here is Owens’ chat with Geoff Hobson:
GH: You’ve been in the yard about 72 hours. Do you think you made the right choice?
TO: Oh yeah. I’m not going to go back and regret any choices you make. To be honest, God has a plan for me. Whatever is laid out in front of me, I just go with the flow and I take it all in stride. There is nothing in this game or about this game and decisions I’ve made that I regret. I think everything happens for a reason.
It’s a new opportunity for me. A new experience. I get to play with a great receiver in Chad, play with a good quarterback in Carson. I think with this team defensively, if we can match their intensity and put some points on the board, the sky’s the limit for this team. It’s a no-brainer. We have the weapons to be very explosive from a running the ball standpoint and from a passing standpoint. I think the key for us is get through training camp healthy, get to the season, and just ball out.
GH: Has the defense caught your eye?
TO: I watch from afar when I‘m not in. I’m trying to observe certain things. But I think mentally my mind is focused on getting a grasp on the offense. I’m far behind. I had no minicamps. I had no OTAs. So it’s like I’m in an accelerated program.
GH: Today Carson went to you twice in a row in the no-huddle. Leon picked off the first one and on the second it didn’t get to you at all. Pretty typical at this early stage?
TO: Yeah, it’s all about timing and getting to know each other and getting a feel for each other out there. It’s going to come. Those things are going to happen. As we go through each practice, those things are going to happen. We just have to get better.
GH: If there is anything you think Bengals fans ought to know about you, that people don’t know, what do you think it is?
TO: I don’t know. I think at this point, 15 years in the league, people are going to think what they’re going to think regardless of what I want them to think. I know who I am and I know what I’m about. It’s all about the individual that makes that assessment and has that opinion about me.
GH: What are you? Since you‘ve been down here you seem smart, entertaining, accessible. That doesn’t seem to be the majority picture.
TO: Exactly. I think majority rules. That doesn’t mean the majority is right. When you have the forum and the voice like some of these major networks and outlets, and they get on TV and bash my character and say all these negative things and, of course, that’s what the fans and the audience listens to. They take whatever they say to be true. It’s hard to dispel that. I‘ve tried to defend myself when nobody else will.
And I know a number of players around the league and even teams I’ve played on, when things have happened negatively, guys come up to me, ‘Dude, you’re nothing like that,’ or even when I go to other teams, they see me and interact with me and that’s the first thing out of their mouth. 'Dude, you’re nothing like I thought you were' and stuff like that. It’s all about the portrayal the media has bestowed upon me. So people can say I’m complaining and blaming the media, but it is what it is. I know what type of person I am.
What’s so frustrating and not true is that how can I be lumped in with guys going out and getting in trouble? Doing drugs. Having club altercations. They’re reporting on those guys and then they’ll say my name in the same sentence. I have nothing close to those types of allegations. That’s what’s frustrating and that’s what fans hear. They pick up on that. They’re reporting on whomever player, ‘You don’t need this type of thing going on in your locker room and on your team. You get rid of the T.O.s of the league.’ Stuff like that. That’s what fans hear. It’s discouraging. It’s unfair. That’s just how it is.
GH: What do you think is the biggest myth about you?
TO: That I’m a cancer in the locker room. That I’m a distraction. How am I distraction that if over the years you take an incident and someone blows it out of proportion and it’s not nearly as bad as it's supposed to be? Then of course I’m going to look bad. Over the years there have been some small incidents that have been blown straight out of proportion.
GH: Like wearing Michael Irvin’s jersey on the Eagles plane. People could see that as honoring one of the players you admired growing up.
TO: Right, right. So what’s bad about that? When I do things it’s magnified 10 times more than if somebody else had done it.
GH: You have two daughters. I know they’re a big part of your life. You said you were watching the Bengals playoff game against the Jets at one of their birthday parties. How often do you get to see them?
TO: Not as often as I like. Its tough being here doing this. I’m always busier in the offseason and some of those times they’re in school and in different states. When I do have that time with them, I think it's quality over quantity. That’s how I take it because I don’t really get a lot of quantity with them. The time I do spend with them I try to make it quality.
GH: After that reception you got on your first day on the rope line here, I was calling you Frank Sinatra or The Beatles. Back in the 20th century, music was popular culture. Now sports are right there. Players get mobbed. They’ve got TV shows. I think you were at the forefront of that and I think it was started by Michael Jordan. I think it naturally evolved to a guy like you. Did you look to Jordan as a role model that way?
TO: I know Michael personally. I’m like any other kid that grew up watching Michael. Wanting to be like Mike. You have such an appreciation for his talent and skill level and the things he’s done for the sport of basketball. For myself, I look at someone in my profession and my sport that I think that’s on that same level and that’s Jerry Rice. I was there. I saw how the fans flocked to him and adored him and it was because of the way he played the game. I think that’s the same appreciation the fans have for myself.
GH: But you took it to the next level and marketed it.
TO: I don’t know if I took it to the next level. I do appreciate the fans. I can only attribute it to their passion for me for things I’ve done on the football field. I’ve always played the game at a high level. I’ve tried to play to the best of my abilities. Do whatever I can to help the team win. Regardless of whatever stigma there is about me as far as me being a teammate, I always feel like I’ve been a team player.
Of course there are going to be some instances where guys bump heads. When I’m on the football field I play as a team.
GH: Receivers always have it out with their quarterbacks. And vice versa.
TO: Right. It’s one of those things. Again, if I say something or my body language is a little different or whatever, they’re going to blow that out of proportion. I know there’s been more blowups or more aggression from a receiver standpoint to a quarterback than I’ve had. Sometimes it doesn’t even get that much attention.
GH: You’re fine with Donovan now, right?
TO: Oh yeah. We’re cool and those things happen. Again, with that situation there have been things I could have done differently.
GH: Do you regret that stuff (the exile from Philly)?
TO: No I don’t. I probably could have done some things differently. I guess had I been more mature there would have been a better way to go about some things. Maybe not being so vocal. As far as my stance, my situation and things that were said from where I stood, I wasn’t at fault. I can honestly say it because there was some staff that even know it wasn’t my fault. What can they do? Again, everybody knew the situation, but you’re only going to know what’s being reported.
GH: Some quick, first impressions here of guys. Carson.
TO: He has a cool demeanor. Cool, calm, collected type of guy. Very professional.
GH: First impression of a guy like
TO: One of those guys that goes about his business. Doesn’t say very much. One of those guys that goes out there and does his job and is a hard worker.
GH: Seven practices with Chad.
TO: Fun, interesting.
GH: You seem to enjoy the breaks.
TO: Oh yeah. You’ve got to enjoy those. Even when I’m tired. Chad has so much energy. I don’t know where he gets it from, but I wish I could borrow some. Whatever comes to Chad’s mind, I think that’s what he says.
GH: How about Coach Lewis?
TO: He’s quiet. I think he’s probably observing me from afar. It’s kind of hard for me to focus in on what everybody else is doing. I’m just trying to grasp these plays as fast as I can. I’m trying to retain a lot in a short period of time.
GH: Do you like the playbook?
TO: Yeah, it’s different. I’m adjusting to a lot of the route patterns. The verbiage is a little different. We’re running some of the same routes I’ve had in the past, which is from different spots on the field. Different depths and different signals for different pass patterns than I’m accustomed to. That’s what I really have to concentrate on.
GH: When you go into the Hall of Fame, who is going to present you?
TO: I have a couple of NFL coaches in mind that I may have do that.
GH: So you’ve thought about it.
TO: You think about those things. It’s hard not to when you have people bring it to my attention from time to time. It’s funny. I was talking on the phone last night; it seems like every team I play on ends up playing in the damn Hall of Fame Game.
GH: Not many guys can play knowing they’re headed next door.
TO: I don’t even know if I’m going to make it. It’s good to say. It’s speculation. My jersey is already in the Hall of Fame. I might not have a bust in the Hall of Fame, but my jersey’s in there.
GH: For what?
TO: The record that Brandon Marshall eventually broke. Most receptions in a game. I had 20 receptions. (For the 49ers against the Bears in 2000.) At this point, I’m already in the Hall of Fame; I just don’t have a bust.
GH: What’s your proudest accomplishment in the league?
TO: That’s probably one of the most notable I’ve had.
GH: How about the catch against the Packers in the playoffs (that won it at the end)?
TO: That’s definitely a highlight. I think a lot of people would know me for that. But I think the biggest accomplishment would be the 20 receptions in a game.
GH: The first week, it seems like a good match. There are a lot of guys on this team,
TO: I could care less. They can say I’m this way or that way all you want. All I know is go dig up a rap sheet on me and when you find it, come find me. That’s what I say.
GH: They always talk about the big bad Bengals, but these guys have been great together. They won a division:
TO: They have, and just like the fans I’m hoping for a great year.
GH: 3,200 more fans today. They’re setting records by the bunches. I don’t know if it’s you or the economy or what.
TO: I know that everywhere I’ve been I’ve been able to increase the attendance of every training camp. So whatever it may be. Maybe it’s the sunshine. I don’t know.
GH: You should have gotten a training camp attendance clause in your contract.
TO: I should have got an incentive on that.
GH: Does it bother you having ($2 million in incentives)?
TO: No, it is what it is at this point. I know I’m very skillful. I know I’m very productive. I definitely took a pay cut to grasp the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Like I said I know I’m worth more than what I’m being paid. But I’m here playing with my good friend Chad and playing with a team that definitely has an opportunity to win the Super Bowl.
GH: It’s going to be hard to get that top incentive on this club. 100 catches.
TO: Oh yeah. Of course. I guess they wanted to throw that in there to make it look good. I’ve only had 100 catches one time in my career.
GH: People are saying you’re going to be a malcontent if you can’t get it.
TO: I know that’s an unreachable goal. It is what it is. Malcontent? Check my statistics. I’ve had 100 catches one time in my career. One. So go figure.
GH: Chad is going to need his. Cedric is going to need his. Gresham is going to need his.
TO: We’ll see. I’m not focused on that right now. I just want to focus on getting this offense down as fast as I can. Carson and I getting on the same page. I don’t even know when the first game is. September the what?
GH: Sept. 12, which is the same thing for you as last season. In New England. (Buffalo lost, 25-24).
TO: Exactly. Not looking for the same outcome.