FALCONS RECEIVERS coach George Stewart had one bit of advice for Eagles wideout Terrell Owens when they met after the NFC Championship Game on Sunday: Be smart. Stewart had coached Owens when they were with the San Francisco 49ers, and he didn't want his close friend playing on a surgically repaired right ankle too soon--even for a shot at winning the Super Bowl. But as Stewart later said, "Terrell has never won a championship in his life. He's pretty excited about that chance right now."
Owens was so excited because he expects to play when Philadelphia meets New England in Super Bowl XXXIX, even though on Sunday it had been only five weeks since he fractured his right fibula and sprained a deltoid ligament in the ankle. After surgery was performed on Dec. 22, team doctors estimated that the wideout could return to action within six or seven weeks at best, but Owens says he's been healing quicker than that.
He has been off crutches for nearly two weeks, and the leg and the ankle have held up in weight-bearing exercises. At practice last Thursday he jogged on the sideline and played catch with the backup quarterbacks. "I believe I'll be out there in the Super Bowl," says Owens, who was scheduled to meet with team doctors on Tuesday. "Look at the progress I've made in three or four weeks. Nobody thought I'd even be walking by now. If the Super Bowl were played today, I'd give it a shot."
Owens's presence in the big game would be a big boost for the Eagles--he led the team in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,200) and touchdown catches (a team-record 14)--but coach Andy Reid remains cautious. "He's making progress," Reid acknowledged after Sunday's game. "We'll see how he does this next week, if he can put a little more pressure on it running."
Noting how meticulously he's cared for his body since the operation, Owens maintains that he wouldn't do anything that might cause him to reinjure himself. He's had five health specialists assisting him in his recovery, including a chiropractor, a nutritionist responsible for monitoring his supplement intake and an electronic stimulation machine operator he flew in from Portland.
Owens says he "got chills" last week watching game tape with his fellow receivers of the Atlanta defense, and he was even more emotional on Sunday. He danced on the sideline and led the Philly fans in cheers while standing on the team bench, moving around like a man one step closer to realizing a dream. "You always hear people talking about miracles," Owens says. "Well, they're going to see one when I walk on that field in Jacksonville."