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SUPER BOWL XXXIX T.O. 'back' despite reason for concern



Published: Wed, February 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Cautionary tales of career-ending injuries won't keep the Eagles receiver off the field.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Here's one story Terrell Owens has probably never heard: A little-known backup offensive lineman, his leg dripping with blood, pleaded with doctors to be taken to the hospital.

No, the doctors said, it was time to board the airplane and fly back home.

Hours before that, Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Jeff Novak had played three quarters of an exhibition game on a steamy night in Charlotte, knowing he needed to be out on the field to try to save his job. As it turned out, that night would essentially mark the end of his NFL career.

At first blush, Novak's story doesn't appear to have much in common with that of Owens, superstar receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Except for this: By rushing his return from a broken ankle and playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday in the same stadium where Novak used to play, Owens risks bringing his career to a premature close, just like Novak did six seasons ago during that preseason game.

What price glory?

Owens, who was at his bombastic best Tuesday in insisting he would be on the field come gametime, is only the latest in a long string of players to bring that question to the fore.

'Stay home'

"If it were my son," said Andrew Kirschner, a doctor of osteopathic manual medicine, "I'd say 'Stay home. Tomorrow's another day.' "

Of course, tomorrows on football's biggest stage are far from guaranteed for these players, many of whom play all their life for a chance win a Super Bowl, the way Owens can Sunday.

Owens knows the history.

The Eagles fell one win short of the Super Bowl three consecutive years before he got here. Then he came and the team got over the hump.

No matter that Philadelphia played the last four games without him, while he nursed the ankle he broke in a game Dec. 19. As everyone with the Eagles will admit, Owens was a big part of helping them get this far.

And hearing him Tuesday, it's clear he's not going to let a little injury, or his doctor's foreboding advice, keep him from taking center stage come Sunday.

"I'll be at 81 percent," said Owens, who wears No. 81. "They've shown what they can do without me, now they'll show what they can do with me. The Eagle 8-1 is back!"

End of career

After he retired, Novak won $2 million in a malpractice lawsuit settlement, claiming the Jaguars team doctor improperly treated a bone bruise that ugly night in Carolina, which led to infections that ended his career.

Part of the testimony in the trial dealt with the fact that Novak, worried about his future with the team, felt pressure to play. The defendants said Novak didn't treat the injury the way he should have.

While Owens doesn't seem to be encountering any pressure from the Eagles to take the field, he talks as though he will be the only arbiter of his fate Sunday.

"God brought me here for a reason. He put me here to show who he is and how powerful he is," he said.

If Owens plays Sunday, there's a good chance things will turn out fine. There's a chance of a gruesome injury. There's also a chance that he could do damage that nobody will know about for a year, or three, or 10.

"You've got short-term risks, like one of the screws bending, and you've got long-term risks, the kind of things you won't know about until much later," said Freddie Fu, a surgeon at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.




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