PHILADELPHIA -- So now we know what the initials, the two-letter shorthand that has made Terrell Owens somehow oddly familiar even to those who have never been in the presence of the Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver, really mean.
Exactly one minute before the 8:45 a.m. appointed time for the beginning of practice here on Wednesday, Owens sprinted past the gauntlet of minicams and the phalanx of reporters, out of the team's NovaCare Complex and onto the field for the first time since having been banished by coach Andy Reid from training camp last week. He did not look right. He did not look left. He certainly didn't glance up at the single-engine plane that incessantly circled the practice facility towing a banner that read: "T-O must G-O."
He did not, let the record show, seek out quarterback Donovan McNabb for an embrace or a chest bump. Or anyone else for that matter. The guy is one cool customer and, even in the morning heat, there was a palpable chill in the air. More than a mea culpa, the return of Owens was mostly about the first two letters of that Latin term.
Maybe, if the one misguided soul who picketed outside the complex early Wednesday -- dressed in a black bra and matching thong -- had been permitted inside, he might have drawn a double take from Owens. Uh, yeah, we said he. (An aside to the cross-dressing fan, who at least wasn't among the couple dozen zanies brandishing those phony signs disseminated by rival local radio stations: The heels didn't match the rest of the scant ensemble and, well, you might want to work a little harder on the wax job).
But what was clear watching Owens through the two-hour session was that his return to the team could best be described as businesslike. And, trust us, that's the most apt term. Faced with forfeiting nearly $200,000 for every regular-season absence, if the club suspends him, Owens made a sage financial decision.
But know this: His remaining term with the Eagles, who almost certainly will excise him following this season, is all about business.
Philadelphia brass remains hopeful that Owens, in time, will regain his passion for the game. And, sure, Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. evoke a ton more emotion than Wednesday mornings at 9. But if his first practice back was any kind of indicator, Owens will go through the 2005 season with little rise in his pulse rate. That isn't to suggest Owens won't play hard -- or that, at some point, his well-documented personal pride won't kick into overdrive -- but rather that his pursuit of a championship is more about delivering a Super Bowl ring to his finger than securing a Vince Lombardi Trophy for the throaty fans of the city where he works.
He will try to be a productive pariah because, let's face it, that is now his lot in life.
Early on Wednesday, in what team sources said was a tete-a-tete that lasted no more than five minutes, Owens huddled with Reid. Essentially, the Philadelphia coach asked if Owens was prepared, mentally and physically, to return to the team. And Owens answered in the affirmative. And then quickly added, just to get it on the record, that he still harbored the same grievances about his contract.
And that, as they say, was that. The best moles we've got here, squeezed hard for any nugget of inside information, offered up nothing sexy. So the Reid-Owens meeting, it seems, will never be mistaken for the Yalta Summit. History will not mark the Aug. 17, 2005 date, we're fairly certain, in the same way it does, say, the anniversary of the Camp David Accord or of D-Day. It was a truce of convenience, nothing more, and nothing less. The equivalent of the bickering married couple that decides to hang in there a little longer, even if they can't stomach the sight of each other, for the sake of the kids.
Owens departed The Big Powwow, participated in a few meetings, then went out to preside over what, in truth, amounted to only about a two-ring circus. For all the talk leading up to Wednesday about what an event it would be, the only big top pitched at the NovaCare Complex was the practice bubble. Reid, who has an admirable ability for being able to squeeze the air out of any balloon, succeeded again in transforming a potential bomb into a dud.
In the opening segments of practice, Owens loped through skeleton plays, primarily aligned in the left or right slots, taking every other snap off. Then he worked a while with trainer Rick Burkholder, off the side, stretching with a big, green inflated ball. After that, a "team" drill, in which he snagged his first pass of the day (at precisely 9:13), but not until it ricocheted off his chest before Owens grabbed it out of the air on the rebound. At 9:38, McNabb whipped a strike between defenders to Owens in the left-hook zone. And at 9:45, the two hooked up on a bullet over the middle.
A couple hours earlier, Owens arrived here wearing his now-customary camouflage fatigues. An apropos choice of attire since his body language during much of practice hinted at the kind of fatigue any player would experience after a week off the field. His hands were sometimes on his hips, his head back, his chin strap unfastened. He was not, in fairness, sucking wind. Heck, he wasn't sucking period, but he wasn't exactly the scintillating T.O. everyone has come to expect, either.
We noted the times on Owens' receptions because, we're betting, Owens mentally is inventorying every move he makes and every action the team takes. Down to how many times they throw him the ball. And the Eagles, covering their collective butts for any grievance or arbitration hearing down the road, have probably placed in a bank vault somewhere a copy of Wednesday's practice. Assuming this relationship again sours, and the Eagles are inclined to suspend Owens for, say, the catch-all transgression of "conduct detrimental to the team," they want plenty of documentation.
Nothing that Owens did on Wednesday, though, was detrimental to anything. But neither was it a workout in which an observer exited thinking, "Wow, that guy had a tremendous practice and showed that he's ready to put things behind him." No, Owens will practice, and will make plays, and will cash paychecks. The Eagles, who need Owens on the field more then Reid or anyone else will ever concede, will win the division and once again try to navigate the Super Bowl hurdle.
And in about five months, it will be over, with little fanfare. Which pretty much sums up Wednesday's events here.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.