Terrell Owens hasn't caught a pass for the Buffalo Bills yet but there's no arguing that he is already the team's most popular and most recognizable player.
The Bills — who haven't made the playoffs in nine seasons and aren't deserving of any of this attention — are gladly riding T.O.'s coattails.
His reputation as a world-class athlete, receiver, fun-loving human being, A-1 narcissist and controversial team wrecker was built at previous NFL stops in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas.
For paying him $6.5 million for one season and hauling his baggage, Buffalo gets to reap the rewards, such as:
--Adding an elite-level pass catching threat to an offense that ranked 25th in yardage.
--Packing the stands for every practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., with upwards of 3,000 to 5,000 fans per day gobbling up food, drinks, jerseys and caps.
--Hitting the 53,000-plus mark in season ticket sales, astounding for a team that is riddled with holes and question marks.
--Sparking a national media invasion of Bills' camp, love the team wouldn't have gotten coming off three consecutive 7-9 finishes under Dick Jauron.
"It's awesome," said defensive end Chris Kelsay. "It brings that extra spark to training camp, to the team, to our organization and to be a part of that is special. It's good to see our fans get into it. He's been a great teammate and I'm looking forward to seeing him play on Sunday."
"I think we were prepared for it," running back Fred Jackson said. "He's doing us a favor. He gets all the national attention on us that we want."
Said Josh Reed: "We plan on him bringing as much excitement to the field as he has brought to the city."
So far, so good.
There wasn't a pass rush and nobody was tackling, but Owens, incumbent No. 1 Lee Evans and quarterback Trent Edwards gave a glimpse during the first week of camp of just how explosive they can be. Owens and Evans consistently hauled in deep balls in the 40- and 50-yard range from Edwards, who aired it out almost every practice. It's clear the Bills want to open things up and now have the weapons to do it.
"It's coming along," Owens said. "Out here, we've made some connections and every day is a work in progress. We're just here trying to get better, that's what training camp is all about."
Well, that and generating interest and momentum so the team can market itself and remain a viable franchise in a small market. So far, Buffalo has hit a financial home run with Owens.
Most veteran observers agree, only Buffalo's first camp in Rochester in 2000, with Doug Flutie still on the roster, comes close to the buzz.
"Obviously, he strikes the celebrity along with the football," said COO/GM Russ Brandon, who signed Owens in March just days after Owens was cut by Dallas.
"He's focused on football right now and that's what we're all focused on, but obviously there's a certain element that he brings ... elements of notoriety. We're excited about it as an organization and I know our fans are. It certainly (brings) great energy to the camp and it can only be a positive from our standpoint."
Evans, who has a low-key persona, is still managing to catch his share of deep balls and eliciting his own cheers from fans. As a rookie in 2004, Evans experienced Drew Bledsoe's popularity at quarterback but that didn't scratch what's taking place with T.O.
"You know when you see everything you have on paper and then you put it on the field, things happen, and you see the potential," Evans said. "That's the fun, that's what is bringing the excitement to our team and everyone associated with it."
With Owens, it began on the opening day of camp and it hasn't waned.
After talking with reporters, Owens went over to fans to sign autographs. The cheers were so loud, they drowned out coach Dick Jauron's news conference.
"It's terrific for us," Jauron said of the hoopla.
How can one player getting this much attention be good for the team?
"I don't know how it can be bad either," Jauron said. "The attention is here and he's gotten it throughout his career. It's not a new thing. It wasn't unexpected and he's performed. As long as he performs, we'll be all right."
Owens, who has blown up bigger than ever with a reality TV show, cereal brand, Twitter postings and talk show appearances, clearly is enjoying being the big fish in a small pond. There isn't a personality on Buffalo's roster strong enough to match his, something that did exist in his previous NFL cities.
"I'm used to it," he said of the rowdy cheers from the stands all during practices. "Everywhere I've been, it's always been that type of reception. It's nothing new. It may be new to you guys, but I've been in San Francisco, Dallas, Philly, those markets, so this here is a walk in the park."