PHILADELPHIA (AP) – When a door to the auditorium of the Eagles practice facility suddenly flew open, a startled Donovan McNabb could have been excused for thinking it was some familiar hot air – not a brisk wind – that was the culprit.

“Somebody’s trying to get back in here,” a smiling McNabb said Thursday.

While supernatural terror likely won’t be added to the lengthy list of ways Terrell Owens tormented the Eagles, a mellow McNabb was relieved and ready to put the T.O. era behind him.

Speaking for the first time since Owens was booted off the team for his constant criticism of the Eagles – specifically McNabb – the Pro Bowl quarterback said the team is ready to focus only on football and not the distractions that have swirled since shortly after the Super Bowl.

“It’s unfortunate what the end result was with him not being able to get on the football field with us, but you have to move on,” McNabb said. “Some things in life that you’re a part of just don’t go as well as you want them to.”

While Owens was McNabb’s favorite receiver on the field, Owens made McNabb his top target off it, firing one often puzzling criticism after another toward the quarterback until it cost him his roster spot.

Owens started the friction in April when he took a shot at McNabb, saying he “wasn’t the guy who got tired in the Super Bowl,” then called him a “hypocrite” during training camp and finished it off by saying the Eagles would be better off with Green Bay’s Brett Favre.

What a set list.

McNabb publicly took the high road, trying to diffuse the situation with humor, though he warned Owens to keep his name out of his mouth. Apparently, Owens wasn’t listening or didn’t care.

“You’ve never heard me say anything bad about him,” McNabb said. “You’ve never heard me say anything bad about the situation. I just continued to put that behind me and tried to move on.”

Now the only one truly moving on is Owens.

Safety Brian Dawkins, who tried to act as a mediator between the two, called Owens a good teammate and hard worker who simply let his outlandish comments overshadow his clutch catches.

“Those are things you don’t understand and can’t sweep under the rug,” Dawkins said.

Owens didn’t play in Sunday night’s 17-10 loss at Washington, and will remain suspended for three more games without pay.

After that, the Eagles plan to deactivate him for the rest of the season.

Owens, thrown off the Eagles on Monday, had 20 touchdowns in 21 regular-season games with Philadelphia.

Coach Andy Reid – who dismissed Owens because of “a large number of situations that accumulated over a long period of time” – said all the attention was tiring but there was “no excuse” for the way the Eagles have slumped to a 4-4 record.

A contrite Owens pleaded for another chance in a public apology Tuesday, but the team was unmoved. Owens’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he wants his client to play immediately.

Rosenhaus stole the spotlight after Owens was finished, deflecting unfavorable questions and performing like an over-top-ringmaster in an out-of-control circus.

“I thought it was a sincere apology,” McNabb said. “I thought it was unfortunate after the apology what happened after that. That maybe could have been solved early in the week. That’s over, that’s the past. We’re moving on.”

When asked if he got into a fight with Owens, McNabb couldn’t resist poking fun at Rosenhaus.

“Next question!” a smiling, bug-eyed McNabb yelled into the mike.

While previous McNabb controversies have brought opinions from everyone from Jesse Jackson to Rush Limbaugh, this time consumer advocate Ralph Nader is jumping in, writing a letter to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue that asks to rescind Owens’ suspension.

Nader has a better chance of winning his next presidential bid.

Still, losing the All-Pro wideout puts more pressure on McNabb and an otherwise lackluster receiving corps.

“If he’s not the best, he’s definitely one or two of the top receivers of the game,” McNabb said. “It’s hard to lose a guy like that.”

McNabb’s top two targets are now Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown. The two combined for 45 catches, 543 yards and two TDs this season.

Owens had 47 catches for 763 yards and six TDs in seven games.

“With him on the field, we do remarkable things,” McNabb said. “We could have set records. That was something that I looked forward to doing, winning Super Bowls together. But it just continued to go in the wrong direction.”

Now McNabb says he’s ready to lead even more by example, act as the captain of the ship and steer the Eagles toward the playoffs. His teammates seem ready to jump aboard.

“I don’t care who we bring in here or what players we have, everything goes through him,” Dawkins said.

That was the lesson Owens never learned.

AP-ES-11-10-05 1720EST

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