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Season for the ages

Terrell Owens

He is the oldest man to ever catch and run with the football for the Bengals and when he turns 37 in 26 days, Terrell Owens joins Ken Anderson as the oldest to ever throw it, run it, or catch it for Cincinnati.

Which is quite a feat around these parts. When T.J. Houshmandzadeh grabbed a classic Houshian 10 catches for 100 yards on Oct. 1, 2007 in a Monday-nighter against the Patriots, it was five days past his 30th birthday and only five Bengals wide receivers before him had caught a pass when they were 30 or older. And the incomparable Isaac Curtis caught 64 percent of those 233 post-30 balls in becoming the oldest man to ever catch a pass in Bengaldom at the tender age of 34. A good generation before Owens arrived.

A season-ticket holder who turned 60 last month, there is nothing wrong with Curtis' eyes. Two days after Owens was born, Curtis capped off his rookie season with three TDs and 117 yards against the Browns.

"He's been awesome. I'm really impressed. T.O. has made a believer out of me. He's fun to watch," says Curtis, whose 17.1 career yards per catch provided a few blasts themselves. "He looks like he's a first- or second- or third-year player. He looks fresh."

Owens appears to suppress a bit of a smile when asked about that prime time shot he gave to convention Monday night. No one is supposed to catch 10 balls for 141 yards against defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's Steelers. Not that 36-year-old that nobody wanted in their training camp until medical necessity intervened.

"I guess you can say it's proving a point to the doubters," Owens says. "After last year it was disappointing to read and hear from scouts that I lost a step, couldn't play this game anymore when they didn't know the situation. That's what's so unfair about the assessment. What I've been able to do, I attribute it to the way I train, my eating habits throughout the season, the way I practice."

He doesn't have to convince Curtis.

"How many touchdowns does T.O. have?" Curtis asks after watching him for eight games.

Told Owens had seven, you could almost hear Curtis whistle. Curtis caught seven touchdown passes in the 65 games he played after he turned 30.

"His commitment to working out and staying in shape is obvious," Curtis says. "It's not so much what he's doing this year, it's the fact that he's been in the league for so long getting worn down and looking as good as he ever did. It's just incredible. I tell you what: he doesn't lie around and wait for training camp to come."

The numbers don't speak for just themselves. They also speak for guys like Curtis and quarterback Carson Palmer.

"He's been great to work with, been great for young receivers to watch work, for young guys at every position to watch work," Palmer says. "To see one of the guys with top five statistics, top three statistics at the age he is and the year he's in. He doesn't take a rep off, doesn't take a day off and that's great for not only receivers but every position to watch."

At 32, Chad Ochocinco is not exactly one of those young guys. He's 11 catches away from passing Houshmandzadeh as the team's most prolific post-30-year-old receiver and he already has 16 more post-30 yards than Curtis.

But Owens has had an impact on The Ocho. Ochocinco says the four months Owens has been with the Bengals is the healthiest he's eaten in his life. He's watched Owens eat things like fish, chicken, oatmeal and eggs and is copying him. Yet this isn't a mentor-type relationship.

"Chad's his own man and own style and type of player. He's been doing it for a long time, too. It's not like he's a young guy and needed somebody to follow," Palmer says. "Chad's been an extremely hard worker and had his way of preparing for a game. I don't know if he's taken anything away from Terrell's game because Chad's been doing it for so long so well. The one thing they provide each other is competition in practice and trying to outwork each other in practice and trying to catch more balls in practice. If there's a way he's rubbed off on him, it's creating competition."

It certainly has. The Pittsburgh game is going to be remembered for the night The Ocho blew a gasket and overshadowed Owens' big night on his return to prime time stage. Owens has been where the Ocho is now: a No. 1 receiver drawing all the double-teams and the quarterback unable to get it to him. Owens was one of the guys who could talk to Ochocinco in the heat of some of those moments the nation saw The Ocho's anger Monday.

"Chad presses a lot and he wants to make plays, and that's where he has to be poised and allow the game to come to him," Owens says.  "He can't force the game. When you have drops or you're just not mentally into the game, that's when things happen. We're going to get through this and fight together and I'll do my best to bring him along. It's a challenge for Carson and the offensive coordinator to implement a game plan that doesn't allow the other team to dictate what we do. Chad is a great talent and runs so many great routes that we have to find a way to get him the ball."

Everyone has been giving The Ocho advice and why not Curtis, the man that Kenny Anderson calls "Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice," and whose Bengals career yardage record Ochocinco broke? More cycle of life stuff. Owens broke in under Rice in San Francisco. 

"If he asked me for advice, I'd give it to him. I'll wait until he does," Curtis says. "Everybody adores Chad. But you know and I know and he knows that the reason he is where he is is because of football. Number one is that he's a great football player. That's why he gets the attention. He has to get back to that focus. He still has the skills. He just has to forget what people are saying and what teams are doing and just play."

The Ocho has been hearing about focus lately. Heck, he talked about it Wednesday, about how he needs to focus on the fact that his job is to do more than catch the ball. It is also to open it up for other people. He objects to a popular notion out there in the public that all his extracurricular activities, from dancing with the stars to dining with the masses the night before a road game, have sapped his attention and left nothing for football.

"There's an on-and-off switch," he says. "When it's football time, I'm on. When I'm out of here, I'm off."

Such talk perplexes The Ocho. He's around the locker room during the season more than most. He lives close and bops in at odd hours, including a couple of stints on the off day.

"The outside doesn't know that, though. They would think all this stuff I have going on - that has nothing to do with anything," Ochocinco says. "That's a good thing, because what I'm doing here ain't going to last forever, period. And I'm going to have a life to live and those that are concerned about what I'm doing off the field aren't going to be paying my bills or taking care of my kids or putting McDonald's in my mouth. So I'm going to do all I'm supposed to do to make sure everything continues to carry on once this ends. But while I'm here, you know you can't question my dedication and my commitment to this team or what I've done."

The Ocho would like to play until he's 40. Owens looks like he can with no problem. Curtis remembers a time when receivers were treated like riff raff instead of royalty in the rule book and as long as the ball wasn't in the air, DBs could do everything from clothesline, cut and corral receivers. Now if a DB thinks about touching a receiver five yards downfield, FLAG.

"Yeah, they don't take the pounding we did," Curtis says. "No question about that. And there wasn't the conditioning there is now. We didn't have as many spring camps. A lot of these guys have personal trainers. We were pretty much on our own. We had to discipline ourselves. But that doesn't take away from what this guy has done at his age."

It's a different time. The Ocho hasn't gone to the majority of the past three spring camps and has probably given up about $300,000 in workout bonuses. Curtis figures his top salary was something like $300,000.

A different time. But Owens' loping stride of a tall man reminds Curtis of the rookie who barged in during his ninth season when Cris Collinsworth caught 67 passes and eight touchdowns compared to Curtis' 32 balls and five TDs.

"Cris was deceptively fast," Curtis says. "He could kick it into another gear when the ball was in the air and it didn't look like he could get there because his legs were so long."

Welcome to Palmer's world, where he admits he's had to adjust to Owens' unique blend of physicalness and downfield speed with a tight end's body.

"What I was telling T.O. a while ago is that he's an optical illusion, because he's running step-for-step and somehow, someway he puts it from fourth gear into fifth, sixth, seventh gear," Palmer says, "and creates separation when the ball is in the air. Just when you think you have to put the ball in a certain place, he somehow explodes and does something you don't think is possible.

"That's why I joke with him about being an optical illusion, because he just has that extra gear. The only other guy I have seen that has that extra gear is (former USC receiver) R. Jay Soward. He may be clocked at a 4.4, but if the ball is in the air and he has a guy running with him, he can get to 4.2."

Curtis, who beat most of the 1972 U.S. Olympic sprinters in the NCAAs that year, knows a thing or two about speed. He's always admired Owens as a receiver, but he was worried after watching the Bengals sign 31-year-old Laveranues Coles last year only to see him show up as a shell of a guy that averaged nearly 13 yards per catch in 105 games for the Jets.

'It seems like receivers lose it overnight," Curtis says. "They show up one year and they hit a wall. They can't run. It's like seeing a boxer suddenly look old in one fight. I was concerned that would happen with T.O. But I've watched this guy break tackles, side-step guys and he's still got good enough speed to beat people downfield consistently. Amazing."

Curtis went to four Pro Bowls, but didn't go to any after he was 26. At 31 last year, The Ocho is the oldest Bengals receiver to go to a Pro Bowl. At 35, defensive end Coy Bacon is the oldest Bengals Pro Bowler. Owens can trump both.

And he suppresses another smile when asked about a possible seventh Pro Bowl at the end of this season.   

"You ask me if I'm having a Pro Bowl year, the things I do on the field take care of that," he says. "I've been to the Pro Bowl six times. My main purpose of being here is to get to the Super Bowl. My main objective is to somehow will this team and get them a playoff spot.

"But I wouldn't be able to do these things without a quarterback. Who knows (about a Pro Bowl berth)? Every week has been a process, and trying to stay on the same page with Carson, and stay in tune and in sync with what's going on -- how they do things here. This (production) is nothing new to me. The things I have done on the field, I have been capable of doing. It's just a matter of me being put in the right situation. It's not surprising to myself, it's just a matter of who you listen to."

Listen to Isaac Fischer Curtis.

"I'm enjoying watching," he says."He certainly hasn't hit a wall."

Player Ages Rec. Yards Avg. TD
Terrell Owens 36 55 770 14.0 7
Isaac Curtis 30-34 143 2034 14.2 7
Chad Ochocinco 30-32 165 2060 12.5 15
Laveranues Coles 31-32 43 514 12.0 5
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 30-31 175 1787 10.2 12
Chip Myers 30-31 53 794 15.0 4
Brian Brennan 30 16 166 10.4 1
Tim McGee 30 13 175 13.5 1
Michael Westbrook 30 8 94 11.8 2

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