Buffalo Bills' Terrell Owens (81) hits a blocker held by wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert during the NFL football team's practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, May 18, 2009. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Lights, cameras, T.O.!
No stranger to attention, Terrell Owens drew plenty of it on a Monday that was busy even for the high-profile receiver.
The day began with Owens joining his new Bills teammates as the team opened voluntary minicamps, and then segued into Owens filming segments for his VH-1 cable television reality show. Among the stops included a press conference on the front steps of an art gallery, where Owens was presented the key to the city by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in front of about 200 cheering fans and a high school marching band.
In between, Owens made one outstanding 40-yard catch up the sideline during practice and conducted an entertaining session with more than two dozen reporters, in which the receiver joked about how the media turnout, by his standards, was a little small.
“This is nothing,” Owens said with a smile following practice while standing in front of 12 TV cameras. “I played in Philly, played in Dallas, this is light.”
Owens was joking, but his mere presence turned the start of a humdrum, no-pads practice in the middle of May into a minor spectacle. Then again, much of Buffalo—and the NFL—has been abuzz since the Bills signed Owens to a one-year, $6.5 million contract in early March, a few days after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys.
Though Owens has visited Buffalo a few times since he signed, this was his first chance to get on the field for practice.
Wearing his familiar No. 81, Owens was at practice on time and stretched with his teammates. He played catch on the sideline with fellow receiver James Hardy while the special teams units worked out.
Owens then joined the other receivers on the field to run routes and work with the quarterbacks. Owens and quarterback Trent Edwards had trouble getting their timing down initially, with Edwards sailing a few passes over the receiver’s head.
“I felt like a rookie, just trying to get plays down,” Owens said.
The 13-year NFL veteran didn’t look like a rookie during team drills, when Owens burst up the right sideline and beat starting cornerback Terrence McGee to make a catch with outstretched arms and tiptoe into the end zone.
McGee was impressed, noting that he had tight coverage on the receiver.
“I thought I was going to get my hands on the ball, but when I missed it, I didn’t think he was going to catch it,” McGee said. “When I’m diving and I see it in his hands, it was a great throw and a great catch. … Right then and there, that let’s you know that every day he’s going to compete, he’s going to make you better as a corner.”
Owens didn’t shy away from contact. He was knocked to the ground when safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Kawika Mitchell broke up a pass over the middle. And Owens went tumbling out of bounds attempting to make a diving catch that was batted down by McGee.
Owens said he intends to attend most voluntary practices, which will be held over the next three weeks before the Bills mandatory minicamp in the second week of June.
“This time is very valuable because all of this stuff on offense is new to me,” Owens said. “My focus is really trying to get this offense down and see what ways I can help the team.”
Owens had better help the Bills if he intends to keep the key to Buffalo. As the crowd chanted “T.O.! T.O.!” Mayor Brown presented the receiver the key on the conditions that he score at least 10 touchdowns and end a nine-year postseason drought by helping the Bills reach the playoffs this season.
Owens, who also received the key to the city of Dallas upon joining the Cowboys three years ago, said scoring 10 touchdowns won’t be a problem. As for making the playoffs, he said that’ll happen with the help of his teammates.
Later, during a brief news conference at the art gallery, Owens said he’s still looking for a place to live in the area, though he didn’t indicate where. That’s when someone from the crowd yelled, “I’ve got a room!”
Owens arrived in Buffalo on Sunday night and was greeted at the airport by cheerleaders and fans gathered by VH-1, which filmed the reception. Aside from attending practice, Owens will film segments for his series in Buffalo over the rest of the week.
Practice sessions, though, are not being filmed because VH-1 does not have NFL permission.
The series, scheduled to premiere in late July, will feature Owens’ day-to-day life and include the receiver’s friends and publicists, Monica Jackson and Kit Williams.