PHILADELPHIA — The last time the Philadelphia Eagles played Atlanta, Terrell Owens stood on the sideline, waving a towel, flapping his arms and encouraging the crowd to make more noise.
Owens won't be a cheerleader when the Eagles play the Falcons in the season opener Monday night. After a tumultuous offseason, the All-Pro wide receiver will be on the field in his adopted hometown hoping to display his skills — and prove he's worth that new contract he's been demanding — before a national audience.
"The one thing that you know about Terrell is that he loves to play the game, so he's excited to get going," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "This is what these guys strive for. This is what they look forward to. To have it on the national stage, it's a Monday night football game and a rematch of the NFC championship game that he didn't play in. He will be ready to go."
Owens sat out the Eagles' 27-10 victory over Atlanta in the conference title game 8 1/2 months ago after having ankle surgery. He returned for the 24-21 loss to New England in the Super Bowl, catching nine passes for 122 yards in a remarkable, gritty performance.
Owens then spent the next several months campaigning for a new contract just one season into the seven-year, $48.97 million deal he signed when he came to Philadelphia in March 2004. He feuded with quarterback Donovan McNabb, argued with Childress, dissed some teammates and was kicked out of training camp for a week after a heated dispute with coach Andy Reid.
Since returning to the Eagles following his one-week exile, Owens has kept a low profile. He even said he has spoken to McNabb and they have worked out their differences, though McNabb hasn't commented.
In his only preseason appearance, Owens caught five passes for 131 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in a win over Cincinnati.
"I will tell you that he always brings a standard to the practice field and the game field," Childress said. "He has always been extremely professional in those areas and obviously extremely productive. That is all you can ask for the guy to do. On the little bit he has played in the preseason, he is ready to go. He's been in big games before and he is going to his hometown, but I think you have a pretty good idea of what he will do."
Owens caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and a team-record 14 TDs in 14 games last season. McNabb had the best season of his career, throwing for 3,875 yards, 31 TDs and only eight interceptions.
Though their relationship deteriorated this summer, McNabb and Owens proved in just one half against the Bengals they don't have to get along to be successful.
"I think one thing that we have to do is we have to kind of just focus in on how we are on that field," McNabb said. "That's kind of our domain. That's our place and when we're out on that field, you really can't tell who's disgruntled, who's upset, because everyone is kind of in their realm. And they get an opportunity to take a step forward and have fun."