Updated: 7-30-10, 6:40 a.m.
GEORGETOWN, Ky. - As offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said of his new receiver, "That's his kind of life," so the Bengals shrugged as they began filming an Internet commercial with their new Big Three at the unique hour of 10 p.m. Thursday in a chunk of Rawlings Stadium lit by TV lights.
When Chad Ochocinco tried to remember the Bengals season ticket phone number and was fed 621-TDTD, Terrell Owens pulled off the sleekest ad-lib this side of David Letterman and threw in, "That's TOTD."
It is the only way the two reality TV stars could begin Owens' Bengals career and maybe Carson Palmer thought it was like a circus, but when Owens and Ochocinco walked on the field together here just in time for the start of Thursday night's practice with long-time sideline icon James Brown, it was more like a county carnival as the crowd of about 3,000 erupted in hoots and hollers.
Jeff Berding, the club's director of sales and public affairs, ended the night by gathering The Ocho, Owens and wide receiver Antonio Bryant to shoot the commercial and he vowed "to flood the Internet with it" Friday. Owens, who earlier had reminded people that he's the executive producer of the "T.O. Show," seemed to like concept of the new Big Three or Three Amigos or whatever The Ocho could come up with on the spur of the moment since he was put in the middle.
"I didn't come to town to mess," Owens said. "We're looking to be in Dallas Feb. 6."
"If you work maintenance, you better get some more light bulbs," Owens said, "because we're going to light up the scoreboard."
Owens already had his first touch of controversy when his news conference was delayed nearly 12 hours because he wasn't on his originally scheduled flight. He'd then flown cross-country, took a physical, rode the hour from Cincinnati, got his egg whites at his favorite stop, The Waffle House, signed his contract, checked out his room, walked to the locker room and came out half-an-hour later for practice, and then conducted a 16-minute post-practice news conference.
But when the TV lights came on, Owens had a fresh-as-a-daisy smile.
Poor Bryant with those two guys. And he's a bright, glib guy himself. But he could only get in "I'm The Exterminator."
Like Bratkowski said…
All of which is no surprise to Palmer, and he welcomed the respite.
"It's a circus," Palmer said with a smile after throwing to Owens for the first time. "Just him and Chad. Them being them. It was funny. I was laughing (when they came out). Then J.B. coming out behind them raising the roof. That was priceless. It definitely is a circus. Training camp is boring and slow and hot and then you get a little bit of action. Get a little bit of fun in the circus atmosphere, it makes it fun, it kind of breaks up the monotony of it. Hopefully, there's some more fun things to happen to make training camp not so boring."
T.O. made sure of that in his news conference. Addressing a regular-season crush of media in horn-rimmed glasses and a straw fedora, the smooth and soft-spoken Owens cut quite a far different image than the controversial-riddled diva while calling the Bengals a "special" team.
"I'm here to win a championship," Owens said. "I watched the playoff game against the Jets at my daughter's birthday and they were missing a piece. ... If I can be that piece, it would be great."
Owens left no doubt that Palmer is the reason he's here, stemming from the couple of weeks Palmer threw to him this month in California. Owens called it the work of God because the only reason it happened is that he attended a function for Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart's foundation and Leinart mentioned he was throwing to some guys the next week. Owens got a date and time and Palmer also happened to be there.
"When he left," Owens said, "he said, 'you should be coming with me.' He was putting (the ball) right on point."
Also big is his relationship with The Ocho, but Owens laughed when asked if he's going to change his name.
"There's going to be no Ocho Uno, but you may call me that if you wish," he said.
Palmer calls him different. A good different. Hall of Fame different. As in here's a guy that ended up running with the first team without ever seeing a playbook. Palmer admitted Owens got a head start because they were running the Bengals' plays in California.
But, "he's a smart guy who's been around a long time," Palmer said. "He's a different guy. You saw him run that little quick route before turning it into a 40-yard route. Not too many guys can do that."
It was Owens' only catch in 11-on-11, but the shallow crossing pattern that he turned upfield shows how much explosion he has left in his 36-year-old body. He also blew by two defensive backs on a long route and they weren't even near him, but the ball didn't come his way.
As he left for the night, Bratkowski couldn't contain a smile.
"We just became a better football team today," he said.
Bratkowski and wide receivers coach Mike Sheppard have a combined 36 NFL seasons, the same age as Owens. And they agreed. What they just saw, throwing a guy in there without seeing a playbook and watching him get through a practice at a starting spot without holding it up or bumbling doesn't happen all that much.
There were times when tight end Reggie Kelly motioned to Owens on his splits, or Bratkowski jogged out to the line with him. And before the snap, Bratkowski or his aides would tell him when he was in and how to run the play, but Sheppard said it was obvious Owens's time with Palmer had helped.
"That was part of the attraction; he's been in a number of different systems," Bratkowski said. "There are variances to the routes, but those are things he has done ... he did (well). That's hard to do. He didn't flinch. He jumped in whole heartedly and went after it."
Bratkowski said the coaches will incorporate the routes they know are his strengths - so that won't be the last time you'll see that shallow crossing route - as well as see if he likes some of the things the Bengals run.
After talking with one of his former colleagues, former Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, Sheppard knew the Bengals wouldn't have much of a transition with Owens. Owens asked him about a certain route and if it converted to a different route against this particular coverage. It did.
"He's asking all the right questions. A lot of guys come in and they don't know the questions to ask," Sheppard said. "You've got to teach him everything. I don't think that's much true with him."
Now the perception-reality game starts. Owens addressed it Thursday night when he said he felt his image has been a bit overdone, and he was probably right to a point. He's outrageous, but then so is the media these days. He certainly didn't sound like a locker room ogre as he talked about feeling how he belonged as he walked to baggage claim and how thankful he was to ownership to get the opportunity to play with a quarterback like Palmer and get a chance to win it all.
Owens plugged the T.O Show while he made the point if it's not real, he doesn't want it in there. You can say he sounded absolutely impossible as he talked about the crowds getting bigger and bigger this week to come see him. But that is very real. He's right. Do you think 3,000 showed up on a weeknight at the end of a 90-degree scorcher to bask in the weather?
The most real guy on this team is probably Kelly, known as "The Reverend," and as you figure the soul of the locker room could do, he seemed to sum up his team's feelings. And it is a team that has been through a lot. The Ocho reminded everybody of that when he walked into the locker room Thursday night wearing a R.I.P Chris Henry T-shirt. There was the death of Vikki Zimmer, their Samoan teammates hit by tragedy of a different sort, and an AFC North title.
What haven't they seen? T.O. is just another day at the beach.
"I've got my popcorn ready," said Kelly, who has caught three touchdowns in seven seasons as a Bengal. "I think it was a tremendous move because I finally have an opportunity to get single coverages."
After a laugh, he offered, "Just think about our organization. We have people from all walks of life. From the lowliest of the low to the highest of the high. We're used to it. He's going to come in with his own type of personality and that's part of the deal. You welcome him, you look forward to bringing him in as one of our brothers."