Eagles fans loved Terrell Owens, and many still do. He was flamboyant on and off the field and made the 2004 Eagles look unbeatable until they met Tom Brady and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
Owens, in time, also tore apart the Eagles during the 2005 season and in two years was done in Philadelphia.
Don’t look now, but another big personality is upon Eagles’ fandom in 6-foot-1, 224-pound AJ Brown, who the Eagles acquired on draft night by trading the 18th overall pick to the Tennessee Titans for Brown, who was then rewarded with a new four-year, $100-million deal by the Eagles.
He’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s not afraid to poke fun at the hated Dallas Cowboys (making him an instant fan favorite) and he’s not afraid to tell anyone how good he is—because he is.
All features Owens possessed in abundance. It’s a built-in product that comes with most prima donna wide receivers.
Brown, who has 185 receptions for 2,995 yards and 24 touchdowns in three NFL seasons, is probably the best wide receiver deep threat the Eagles have had since Owens—and he’s still improving.
The one glaring distinction between Brown, 24, and Owens is when they became Eagles. The 2004 Eagles were on the verge of a Super Bowl. This team is not. Owens put the Eagles over the top. Brown is a glaring missing piece that will make the Eagles NFC East contenders, but is he willing to grow as this young team grows?
He walked into a winning situation in Tennessee. He did not have to be a leader. They were already built into the Titans, who made the playoffs each of the three seasons Brown was there, compiling a 32-17 regular-season record and winning two AFC South Division titles and two playoff games. The Eagles, in contrast, have gone 22-26-1 with one NFC East division title and no playoff victories during that same span while looking to re-establish an identity after winning Super Bowl LII.
Owens created much of the friction that eventually led to his ouster in Philadelphia. He openly criticized Donovan McNabb, he caused dissent within the team, and everything fell apart to a point where then-head coach Andy Reid and then-team president Joe Banner felt obligated to release Owens in March 2006, having played only one full season with the team.
Brown off the field doesn’t appear to be nowhere near the headache Owens turned out to be. For one, Brown is close with Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts, which is a monumental help. Secondly, he does not appear to have the over-sized ego Owens had—not yet anyway. TO came to the Eagles as an established star. Brown is working his way towards that.
In mid-April, Brown received blowback for not attending the Titans’ offseason program, not afraid to voice that he wanted a better deal. “I’m a diva and a bad teammate all of sudden, lol ok,” Brown tweeted. “Do what you have to do then and so will I.”
Titans’ fans will tell you Brown and TO have much in common—on and off the field; that Titan management got rid of him at the most opportune time before he shredded the fabric of the Titans like Owens ripped apart the 2005 Eagles.
The Eagles and their fanbase will need to find that out for themselves, depending upon the Eagles’ success with Brown.
Paired with DeVonta Smith, Brown can be part of the best receiving tandem in the NFC. They’re already the best in the NFC East, and they haven’t played a down together.
The Titans have Derrick Henry. Although he played in only eight games last season due to injury, the Titans still did not throw the ball that much in 2021: 535 times.
The Eagles threw fewer (an NFL-low 494).
That changes this season.
So could a new chorus that once flowed throughout Lincoln Financial Field 18 years ago ring again, when Eagles’ fans regaled TO with melodic praise “TO, TO, TO!”
How does, “AJ, AJ, AJ”sound?
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler AJ Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.