Canton, OH - When Terrell Owens makes his debut in a Bills uniform Sunday, little does he realize how much influence a certain newly inducted member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame had in getting him to Buffalo.
Frustrated with missing the playoffs for nine straight years and unhappy with how his franchise had been relegated to secondary status, Wilson decided to stir things up in early March, a day after Owens was released by Dallas.
``I said, 'Sign him,''' Wilson told The Associated Press, recalling his conversation with Bills general manager Russ Brandon. ``In Buffalo, we haven't had a national figure publicity-wise since (Jim) Kelly. So I thought, 'If this guy's a bad guy, so what? If he's a bad guy we'll have to get rid of him. But if he's a good guy, hey, we're ahead of the game.'''
year $6.5 million contract with Buffalo.
The game will be part of a distinctly Buffalo-flavored weekend, played a day after Wilson and former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith were inducted into the Hall. It's a game between two original American Football League franchises, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the league's founding. The Titans, who relocated from Houston, will wear throwback Oilers uniforms.
Then there's Titans quarterback Vince Young, who will get a chance to begin showing whether he's ready to reclaim the starting job since an emotional meltdown relegated him to the sideline most of last season. Young is expected to play about a half, behind starter Kerry Collins.
``There's definitely going to be a lot of eyes. I can't think about that,'' said Young, who's looked confident during the first week of training camp. ``I've got to go out and play my game, stay relaxed, execute the offense.''
For Owens, what better setting to make his much anticipated debut than national television? Not that he's new to this.
``No, I've done it all before,'' Owens said with a shrug. ``We're just trying to approach the game just like any other game, get some things accomplished, get a feel for where we are.''
It remains to be seen what Owens can provide in sparking what's been a popgun passing attack, and an offense that's finished 25th or worse in each of the past six seasons.
is how Owens has immediately raised the Bills' profile around the country and among the team's fans. Season ticket sales are above 53,000, impressive for a team coming off three straight 7-9 seasons. Fans have gobbled up everything T.O.-related - from his cereal to No. 81 jerseys, which have dotted the stands around training camp.
Wilson has noticed the buzz.
``I get more questions throughout the country, 'How's T.O. doing?' It put Buffalo on the map,'' Wilson said. ``I thought we needed something like that, good or bad.''
Now on his fourth team in entering his 14th NFL season, Owens wasn't aware of Wilson's influence in signing him. But he does know why he's still considered a wanted commodity.
``It has been that way every time I have gone from one team to the next. When I went from San Francisco to Philly, they said I was the missing piece,'' Owens said. ``For whatever I brought, whether it was swagger, production, the way I practice, I brought it to the Eagles. It carried over into the playoffs and obviously got us to the Super Bowl.''
The Bills will settle for a playoff appearance for starters.
Making the playoffs has not been an issue for the Titans, who have reached the postseason six times in the past 10 years and are coming off a 13-3 campaign.
Coach Jeff Fisher felt confident enough in his veteran team to bring them into camp July 31 - about a week later than he could have.
Defensive end Jevon Kearse feels the Titans are ready.
``It's very hard to believe we're going to be playing on Sunday,'' Kearse said. ``I guess that's the trade off because we did a good job in the offseason program. Mostly everyone was here doing a lot of the conditioning and the weightlifting, so he trusts us that we're going to be able to go in this game and be well-prepared.''
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