One thing you have to say about Terrell Owens: He's right. They come out to watch. With the shrieks and chants of "T.O." as he worked the rope line after Saturday morning's practice, it sounded like a combination of bobbysoxers swooning over Francis Albert Sinatra and girls screeching for the Beatles.
After all, sports in the 21st century is now what music was in the 20th century.
Popular culture. And that man signing a Who Dey sign was the leader of the pack along with a fellow named Michael Jordan.
Owens says he's here because it's his shot to win an elusive Super Bowl ring after 12 playoff starts. And it was a Super Bowl atmosphere Friday on the last day of July 75 miles from Paul Brown Stadium.
Bengals business manager Bill Connelly, who has been working with the Bengals since the late '70s and the days of Homer Rice, says he's never seen anything like it around a training camp that has had Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods, Corey Dillon, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and, yes, Chad Johnson and Chad Ochocinco.
"It's the popularity of the league and the popularity of the player," said Connelly, who saw a kid with a sign that said, "It's my 10th birthday," and watched Owens sign his ball "Happy Birthday."
"It exceeds anything we've ever seen before," Connelly said.
The T.O. factor has given a shot in the arm to Georgetown attendance and it came in the nick of time because this is the Bengals' only weekend on campus. They travel to next Sunday's Hall of Fame Game on Saturday. Athletic director Eric Ward was quite pleased with a stronger than normal crowd of 3,500 in the morning and if the rain comes and goes before 7 p.m., they could see a crowd as big as 5,000, a nice number for a practice that isn't a scrimmage or Mock Game.
Owens said it when he arrived Thursday. The people come out to see him and like the baseball field in Iowa, they will come, Ray. They will come.
"I'm used to it," he said. "I know these fans have been following me through my career. I wouldn't be where I am without the fans. I started out in San Francisco. It just shows you the appreciation they have for my body of work. ... Honestly, it gives you chills. It gives you hope. It makes you get ready for the season."
People have said he's great the first year he's anywhere. The first 72 hours have been golden. After Connelly and a couple of policemen escorted Owens through the line, he stood in a blazing sun outside the locker room for 11 minutes and talked about everything until the last question. His game, the Bengals, his image, and how he thinks said image may hurt a first ballot Hall of Fame election. He says Saturday morning was the best he's felt in the four practices and he compares this team to the one he joined in Philadelphia in 2004 and went to the Super Bowl that year.
"A team on the rise that knocked on the door a little bit," Owens said. "Now hopefully this team here with my help we can knock the door in."
The body of work is as impressive as the body that rung up 15.1 yards per 55 catches in Buffalo at age 35 last season for a team that finished 30th in passing. That's not a ho-hum number. The Ocho has averaged at least 15.1 yards in four of nine seasons. In the past 30 Bengals seasons, it has happened only 12 times with players catching at least 55 balls.
It marked the third straight year his numbers declined, but it baffles Owens that people says he's done. He figures he's got two to three years left.
"They fail to mention I had three different quarterbacks (last year), two different head coaches, a new offensive coordinator right at the beginning of the year," Owens said. "We had a rash of injuries. We probably had the most guys on injured reserve. So all those factors hurt the team production. Not just myself. They don't want to talk about that. They want to say he's declining."
While he was at it, Owens said he is also still baffled by a media that portrays him as a bad guy and team wrecker. He feels that while some quarterbacks and team leaders are praised for their passion and outspokenness in sideline tirades, he's painted as a cancer. He says that he and The Ocho sit around laughing about the speculation they won't be able to get along.
"I'm proud of the fact my grandmother raised me right; she taught me right from wrong," he said. "You see guys that have had DUIs, domestic violence, club altercations, rape allegations. I get thrown in the same category with those guys. ... It's ignorance if you ask me. I've had no off-field problems. It's mind-boggling."
He thinks the image might hurt a shot for a first-ballot Hall selection. It is the only thing that would keep him out. Here's a guy that has started 205 games in his NFL career now running against a group of seven cornerbacks that have a combined 129 starts. He has the third-most receiving yards, the third-most receiving touchdowns and the sixth-most catches.
"If numbers are the way to go, then yeah," he said of the first ballot. "But I know how the media is and it's going to be about my character. Even if it's about my character, I know my character is clean. I haven't had any run-ins with the law, so go figure."
Owens is starting to hear about the Hall of Fame all the time now. He coached some of them in a Madden event a few weeks ago and one of them was cornerback Rod Woodson, on the field Saturday as a coach in the NFL minority intern program. Next weekend he'll be playing in Canton itself.
"I don't overwhelm myself with that (thought)," Owens said. "The numbers kind of speak for (themselves). The only thing I don't have as an accolade is the Super Bowl trophy. That's pretty much my reason for coming here knowing that we have something special here and we're on the cusp of doing something great."