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Monday, November 07, 2005

What To Do With a T.O. Jersey?

Last year in the midst of a snowstorm I bought my kids Eagles' jerseys. It was an easy decision, really. It was the day before the NFC championship game, and I figured that you don't get championship opportunities in the Philadelphia area that often. So, I took my five year-old son, braved slippery roads, and bought two jerseys.

He wanted a Donovan McNabb jersey, and there were plenty of those. My daughter, now eight, had voted for a Terrell Owens jersey. She liked his effort, and she liked his attitude, and, well, I wasn't the only one in the Philadelphia area purchasing his jersey. I would have preferred a Jevon Kearse or a Brian Westbrook, but, heck, I'm a dad, she's a kid, and what was the harm?

After all, T.O. was part of the "happy to be here" club last year, rescued from the depths of hell that the once-proud 49ers had fallen to. Giddy, he had to be, for he had left a basement dwellar and joined a team that was an elevator passkey away from access to the glamorous penthouse. He worked hard in the off-season, worked hard during the season and had a great year.

So great, in fact, that he made the Eagles' offense multi-dimensional. Donovan McNabb had his best year, as he finally had among his supporting cast one of the best players in the game at his position after having suffered with an average receiving corps at best. The Eagles' fans saw T.O. as the missing link to their first championship since Chuck Bednarik sat on the Packers' Jim Taylor in the waning seconds of the 1960 NFL Championship Game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. There was plenty of happiness to go around.

Fast forward several months after the Super Bowl, and all heck broke lose (saying h-e double hockey sticks in the house is verboten). Owens acted badly, well, you know the entire story.

Today the Eagles announced they were parting company with him for good, and, of course, kids being kids, my daughter didn't hear the information during the day. She knew that T.O. was in trouble, but she didn't know how bad it was except that he had said bad things about a teammate and that wasn't good. When I got him, she was in her after-school garb, which included her T.O. jersey over a white t-shirt.

What do you tell a little kid? How do you tell a third-grader that she's wearing the jersey of a pariah, someone who has dishonored the local eleven's colors and is now Philadelphia's version of Harry Potter's Lord Valdemort. He who must not be named.

"That's some outfit," I said upon arriving home, watching my daughter hanging upside down from our oversized chair while watching a show on The Disney Channel. "Hear what happened today?"

She smiled. "Did the Eagles kick T.O. off the team today?" Amazing, these eight year-olds are, as they aren't glued to the Internet like older kids, at least not yet.

"Yes, they did."

"What does that mean, exactly? He won't be coming back, will he?" Kids know. They just do. As much as you try to soften the blows and deliver news of disharmony kindly, they can see right through it. She just knew this would happen.

"No, he won't."

"Is it because of what he said?"

"Yes," I said. And there was so much I wanted to say about being a teammate, being loyal, being supportive, knowing when to speak and when not to, but she's a kid, and how thick do you lay it on? "He just couldn't get along with his teammates. He had plenty of chances, but the team decided they'd be better off without him."

She nodded, and I could see that she was trying to synthesize the information. Finality is hard for adults, and it can be harder for little kids to understand. Kids fight, especially with siblings, and they can end up hugging half an hour later. Parents leave for work or business trips and come home. Teammates on tee ball or in youth soccer converse and run around, they don't trash talk or push each other around. Even at eight, it's not that easy to comprehend such a public argument.

And the Eagles hold a special place in the mindset of the average Philadelphia fan. They're the best run franchise locally, the team that has captured the imagination (and hearts) of the public. So to a degree it's unfathomable that someone might not want to play for them and that a player can publicly be mean to Donovan McNabb. It's hard for adults to figure that one out, so it's virtually impossible for kids.

"I guess I'll have to get you a new jersey," I told her. We agreed that it wouldn't be the best idea for any Eagles fan to be donning a T.O. jersey in the future.

"How about a Kearse or a Westbrook?" I offered. Dawkins and Trotter also would be nice, I figured.

"Can you get me an L.J. Smith?" she asked. She knows enough of the team to know about the talented third-year tight end from Rutgers?

Fair enough, I thought. He shows up, works hard, makes some great catches, drops some balls he should catch, but he's a team player. Not a bad choice -- if they sell his jerseys for little kids.

Adult fans will lament the fact that the L.J. Smiths, Reggie Browns and Greg Lewises won't make up for the absence of a T.O. And it's hard to dispute that. But the beautiful part about kids is that they can get over their disappointments quickly, and I for one know that when I get my daughter an L.J. Smith jersey her face will light up the same way it did the day I tossed her the T.O. jersey.

Because, in the end, what she is getting is a Philadelphia Eagles jersey. That's what matters to her, a nice green jersey that represents the home team very well.

It's great to have an appreciative child, great to have someone who's happy to have a home team to root for and a good jersey to wear.

What's sad is that Terrell Owens can't enjoy the privileges that his talents have provided him access to.

A nice green jersey in a football town, with good teammates all around him.

If only the life of a thirty-one year-old mega star could be that simple.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to love having an 8 year-old dughter who chooses an LJ Smith jersey. I'm sure there are a million other and better reasons to love having her, but number 1,000,001 is pretty cool.


8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am also looking for a Smith Jersey to replace Owens for my daughter. If anyone knows where to find one, let me know!

7:40 PM  

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