Owens' agent gets to exhale David Joseph was thrilled at the resolution of a situation that had left him looking foolish.

Posted: March 17, 2004

Terrell Owens wept after his "Redemption Reception" in 1998, when he squeezed a pass in the end zone to climax a come-from-behind San Francisco 49ers victory over Green Bay in the NFC wild-card game. He had dropped four passes earlier in the game.

Now Owens' agent, David Joseph, knows the same feeling. Joseph went from goat to hero yesterday after a sudden turn of events sent the star receiver to the Eagles - and it turned out that a paperwork fumble by Joseph hadn't ruined the career of his biggest client after all.

"It's been an amazing, and a nightmare, experience," Joseph said last night after Owens was introduced as an Eagle at the NovaCare Complex. "All these people saying I'm an idiot, or there was a paper snafu. . . . When the whole world is coming down on you, telling you you've made a mistake, sometimes you start believing it."

Joseph's problems began Feb. 25, when, as part of the process of requesting Owens' free agency, Joseph filed paperwork with the 49ers to void the remainder of Owens' contract with the team. Owens was anticipating a huge payday as the premier free agent (or, at least, one of them) going on the market.

Joseph believed he had until March 2 to file the "void" papers, but the 49ers and the NFL said he had missed a deadline of Feb. 21, modified because of changes in how the NFL defined a "league year."

Owens, crushed, was denied his free agency.

Then, expecting the 49ers to trade Owens to the Eagles, Joseph negotiated a multiyear contract with the Eagles that included a rumored $10 million signing bonus.

In what might have been a slap at Owens - he had already ordered Eagles jerseys with his name on them - the 49ers instead traded him to the Baltimore Ravens.

"We had the rug pulled out from under us again," Joseph said.

All along, Joseph maintained that he had followed proper procedure for voiding Owens' contract. The NFL Players Association filed a grievance with the league on Owens' behalf and requested arbitration in the case.

Meanwhile, slings and arrows flew at Joseph. ESPN asked other athletes how badly they would have hurt their agents if they made similar bumbles. News stories called Owens Joseph's only client - Joseph said that's untrue; he has eight or nine clients in the NFL or in the April draft. Even other agents snickered behind his back and thanked their lucky stars it wasn't their mistake.

The coverage and speculation "was an avalanche," Joseph said. "When your family and friends are being hurt by things they hear, and people you knew 10 years ago . . . of course it hurts you. It was tough."

Through it all, Owens comforted his agent, calling him frequently to raise his spirits.

"I relied on him a lot," Joseph said of Owens. "I would pray that things would work out, and then I would get a call from Terrell. He has this ability to remain calm and focused. We talked about our walk through the shadow of death."

On Monday, the special master, University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank, convened discussions with league and union lawyers in Philadelphia. Immediately after that hearing - but before a decision was rendered - the teams began working out a deal that would amount to an out-of-court settlement. It sent Owens to the Eagles, and redemption to Joseph.

"I do feel vindicated," he said last night, perhaps the most relieved man in the room.

Contact staff writer Don Steinberg at 215-854-4981 or dsteinberg@phillynews.com.

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