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At first sight, Bills fans go bonkers for Owens

7/26/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Terrell Owens knows he's a big deal. He's reminded of it everywhere he goes, in everything he does.

But, relatively speaking, Owens is an even bigger deal in Western New York than he ever has been anywhere else.

Legends were forged in San Francisco before Owens arrived there. Philadelphia has seen its share of superstars. Icons have passed through Dallas for decades.

Aside from maybe O.J. Simpson, nobody in Buffalo sports history has embodied the combination of sports stardom and mainstream celebrity as T.O.

Each time Owens touched the ball Saturday morning during the Bills' opening training camp practice at St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester, the crowd erupted. It was his debut in front of the fans, and they welcomed him like a hero.

They beseeched him for autographs afterward and exploded with the loudest ovation of the day when he obliged. The roar drowned out part of head coach Dick Jauron's news conference being held 50 yards away.

"I pinch myself sometimes," Owens said. "I've realized that I've had a following everywhere that I've been. I expected nothing different here. I know that the Buffalo fans are very, very fanatical. They're behind their team 100 percent, so coming out here I expected nothing less."

Bills fans have rooted for Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith. None of them arrived with the credentials that T.O. can boast.

Owens has 951 receptions. His next will move him past Bills great Andre Reed for sixth place all-time. Owens has scored 141 touchdowns, the most of any active NFL player. He has his own reality television show. He's known around the world.

Add all of that to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in nine seasons, and it's easy to see why fans are so euphoric over Owens.

Win or lose, he makes their team relevant again.

Even though Buffalo's top four draft choices were absent Saturday, almost every question posed to head coach Dick Jauron and quarterback Trent Edwards was about Owens' presence.

"He's one of many here, but he's a great example because -- let's face it -- we don't have anybody else that's caught 951 balls in the league," Jauron said.

Actually, all of the Bills with at least one career reception combined -- Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, Steve Johnson, James Hardy, Derek Schouman, Derek Fine, Dominic Rhodes, Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson and Corey McIntyre -- have 997 receptions.

No wonder Owens received more cheers Saturday morning than the rest of the team put together.

"It definitely gives me an appreciation for who I am and what I've done throughout my career," Owens said. "It's a humbling situation. I know I'm a blessed individual and know that I have a lot to offer. I expect to bring some of those same things I brought to other teams. That's a lot of success, a lot of touchdowns and a lot of wins."