RENTON — New team. New uniform number. New man as well?
Terrell Owens, following his first practice with the Seahawks, said more has changed in his life since he last played in the NFL than his employer and his familiar uniform number, No. 81, which he won’t wear in Seattle because Golden Tate isn’t giving it up.
Owens, so often the center of attention over the course of what will undoubtedly be a Hall of Fame career, says he is a changed man, one who has been humbled after spending a year out of the NFL.
“I have changed in a lot of ways,” Owens said. “A lot of things have occurred in the last two years and I’ve had a lot of time to think about things, put things in perspective and I just want to move forward and leave all the things that happened 5 to 10 years ago behind me. That’s where I am mentally.”
Of course the Seahawks hope that the change in Owens doesn’t include his ability to be an impact receiver. The six-time Pro Bowler, who ranks second in NFL history in receiving yards, will turn 39 this season, but in his first practice with the Seahawks, Owens still showed flashes of the speed and pass-catching ability that helped him become one of the game’s best receivers. Owens said he was rusty, and at times it showed, but his teammates still came away impressed.
“It was kind of hard to notice,” quarterback Matt Flynn of Owens’ self-proclaimed rustiness. “He did a nice job today.”
Owens got his welcome-back moment early courtesy of cornerback Brandon Browner, who rode Owens into the ground after the receiver tried to beat press coverage by going through Browner.
“He tried to run through me, and I’m a big guy,” Browner explained. “That’s something that’ll work on somebody that’s smaller.”
But Owens, who worked mostly at flanker with the second-team offense, also had a few highlight moments. A juggling catch on a deep pass down the sideline drew big cheers from the crowd, which not surprisingly was one of this training camp’s largest. And while Owens was the center of attention for fans and media on Wednesday, he insists he is only interested in being a team player this time around.
“I’m here to compete for a job just like the rest of the guys,” he said. “I have to earn my spot on this team like everyone else. I understand that.”
Owens knows, however, that just saying he has changed won’t satisfy doubters and critics who view him as a selfish player and disruptive presence in the locker room. But after spending a humbling couple of months playing for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League last season, Owens insists he’ll show everyone just how different he is from the player once known for outlandish touchdown celebrations and telling fans to “Get your popcorn ready.”
He’s ready now to prove it.
“I know I have matured and changed in a lot of different ways,” he said. “Whether other people think that way, that’s up to them. Again I have always been motivated and driven by my family. I know what is most important to me. The last two years have been life-changing for myself.
“I don’t want to try and sit up here and emphasize how much I’ve changed. I think you’ll kind of see that as these days go along. It’s more about actions speaking louder than words, and I think you’ll see that more than anything.”
As for the No. 81, which Owens has worn with each of his previous five teams, Tate considered giving it up, but decided against it. After all, Tate said, he and that number already have been through a lot of ups and downs, and he plans on making a lot of memories in No. 81 before he’s done in Seattle.
“He asked me for it, but I just didn’t feel like I wanted to give it up,” Tate said. “Me and No. 81 have been through a lot — donut shops, inactives, rock bottom … so I’m going to be loyal to 81.”
In case you had forgotten, Tate made headlines during the summer before his rookie season when he and a friend pilfered donuts late at night from a closed donut shop in his apartment building. Tate got off with a warning instead of a criminal charge. Although the incident was humorous, it also was an embarrassing start to what ended up being a disappointing rookie season that included him being inactive for the 2010 season opener.
As for Owens, he said there was no significance behind choosing No. 10, and sounded fine with the change.
“Eighty-one wasn’t available, and there were a couple of options, so I took 10,” he said. “I look good in 10. That’s going to be my number.”
Starting Wednesday, the Seahawks began the process of finding out if more has changed with Owens than just the number on his uniform.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.