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Owens's story still has juice

WR again claims he'll play Sunday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A mangled ankle and broken leg have sidelined Terrell Owens since Dec. 19, but the Philadelphia Eagles' outstanding wide receiver said yesterday that he'll play Sunday in the Super Bowl -- in part because of successful physical therapy, in part because it is God's plan, and in part because of the ample swigs of Noni Juice he's guzzled over the last 6 1/2 weeks.

"It's weird tasting, but it's supposed to make you heal," said the outspoken Owens, who spent his 60-minute Media Day appearance at Alltel Stadium emphatically assuring that he will suit up. "I don't know where [the juice] is from."

Noni Juice is a Tahitian elixir that dates back some 2,000 years. Ancient Polynesians, who believed it helped heal injured bones, muscles, and tissue, would load their boats with Noni fruit when they migrated from one island to another.

The brash and often-controversial Owens migrated to Philadelphia last spring after spending eight years in San Francisco, a sinking island in the NFL's sea of treasures. The Eagles paid Owens a fortune -- $42 million over seven years, with a $10 million signing bonus -- and he responded with a sensational year that included 77 catches, 14 touchdowns, and 1,200 yards.

If he suits up against the Patriots Sunday, it will be against medical advice, but the 31-year-old has decided that he's the best judge of his body.

"I know my body better than anyone, and I can't wait `til Sunday," said the typically expressive, effusive Owens. "If you believe in miracles, wait 'til Sunday.

"I've got the best doctor that anyone can have, and that's God."

Time and time again, Owens invoked God's name and how his faith and prayer have played such a significant part in his speedy recovery. He also constantly praised the Eagles' training staff, especially head trainer Rick Burkholder, who was at the forefront last week when Dr. Mark Myerson, the surgeon who operated on Owens Dec. 22, said he could not clear the wide receiver to play in the Super Bowl.

According to Burkholder, Myerson saw the risk-and-reward factors of playing Sunday differently than Owens and the Eagles' staff. Medical wisdom aside, and the Noni Juice on tap, Owens arrived here intent on his No. 81 being on the game day roster. He practiced Monday, participating in some of the 30 plays the Eagles ran from scrimmage, and yesterday promptly declared himself fit for action.

Eagles coach Andy Reid on Monday took a "we'll-wait-and-see-how-it-goes-the-rest-of-the-week" approach with Owens. Somehow that didn't quite square with Owens's self-assessment some 24 hours later, but such niggling details didn't dull the wide receiver's enthusiasm.

"I had a great day of practice, and I think a lot of people were watching me," he said. "Just to see how I'd fare on my first day of practice with the team. I'm not 100 percent, but I am getting there. Sunday is about 4-5 days away, and I'll be great."

When asked if Reid plans to play him, Owens added, "I haven't heard anything from Andy yet. All I know is that Andy is watching me day-to-day in practices and he's going to see how I progress, and obviously that's going to help him with the progression of the game plan, as far as how much I get the ball.

"I will be ready. I will be playing. I don't think anyone plays this game pain-free."

Owens still has two surgical screws in his right ankle, as well as a small plate outside the ankle that Myerson inserted to add strength and stability to the joint. According to Owens, he will suit up without a brace or extra ankle protection, opting only for tape, his standard wear for all games.

In his early years in San Francisco, when he played in the long and daunting shadow of Jerry Rice, Owens rarely missed games. He evolved as a world-class receiver in 2000, his blend of size (6 feet 3 inches, 225 pounds), speed, and conditioning making him perhaps the game's most feared pass-catcher.

If he plays at anywhere close to 100 percent, Owens would provide the Eagles a valuable asset against what is generally thought to be a vulnerable New England secondary. But the Colts, with star quarterback Peyton Manning and prime receiver Marvin Harrison, couldn't crack that secondary. Nor could Steelers freshman sensation Ben Roethlisberger do it with the likes of Hines Ward. Now it's up to Eagles play-caller Donovan McNabb, with or without Owens.

Because practice sessions are closed to the media, it will be impossible to chart Owens's progress this week. If he says he's great, no one will have evidence to the contrary. Following Monday's workout, a rumor began to spread that the Eagles would "go live" on Owens in a workout later this week, meaning they would subject him to the kind of hitting he would encounter in a game.

Offered such a scenario in yesterday's media session, Owens was incredulous.

"What kind of question is that?" he said, when asked if he had taken a hit. "This is the Super Bowl. Why would you risk . . . contact?"

The slight hesitation between "risk" and "contact" made it sound as if Owens had rehearsed the response. He then was asked if he was worried how the injury might hold up under game conditions.

"Why would I worry about it?" he said. "Hey, the game's going to be the game -- you can't really worry about it."

Owens revealed only the slightest doubt about playing when he responded to a question about what kind of factor he could be on Sunday.

"If I'm on that field, I'm going to be a factor," he said, the only time "if" entered his vocabulary. "How have I been a factor all year? Check my highlights. Right now I am 81 [his jersey number] percent. By game time, I'll be 100 percent."

Whether that's like 100 percent pure Noni Juice, or 100 percent pure nonsense, the world will have to wait until Sunday to find out. 

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