Looking for some revenge on Retribution Sunday

PHILADELPHIA -- If you want the pulse of Philadelphia, there is only one place to go: Pat's, the acknowledged king of cheese steaks since 1930.

Let your nose be your guide, and navigate your way south of downtown. Find a parking place where 9th Street crosses Wharton and Passyunk Avenues and get into line. Act as though you've been there before when you order ("with" means onions) and don't try to get your cheese fries and Cherry Coke from the cheese steak line -- that's why there's a second window to the left.

This is where Philadelphia meets and eats and where the Eagles are adored. Former Eagles -- particularly those who leave on bad terms -- are not, well, embraced. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens falls into that category. An ESPN camera crew was probing the Philadelphia psyche earlier this week when a spontaneous cheer (a rough approximation of "T.O. stinks!") broke out from a group of adolescent boys.

"The mood of the city?" asked Bo McKillop thoughtfully. "That he sucks. The way he treated our team last year was awful. You disrespect Philly, you'll get yours when you come to town."

Football has gotten so big that we actually have themes for single days. There has been an irresponsible profusion of proper nouns.

Three weeks ago, a handful of terrific college games between ranked teams (Notre Dame-Michigan, LSU-Auburn, Oklahoma-Oregon, etc.) prompted the pundits to pronounce Sept. 16 Separation Saturday. A week earlier, the NFL kicked off its Sunday night season with The Manning Bowl.

And now, we bring you Retribution Sunday.

In this age of free agency, you will find players going against their former teams almost every week. Oct. 8, however, features three high-profile athletes facing the teams that let them go after last season.

Owens returns to Philadelphia, where he played in 21 regular-season games in 2004-05 and caught 124 passes for 1,963 yards and 20 touchdowns. But that's only the entree. Consider these choice appetizers:

Giants linebacker LaVar Arrington squares off against the Washington Redskins at Giants Stadium. At the same time, Patriots linebacker Junior Seau meets the team that forced him to retire, the Miami Dolphins.

Arrington's was a particularly messy divorce.

Last season, a combination of knee injuries and a propensity for freelancing led head coach Joe Gibbs and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to bench Arrington, one of the most popular Redskins players. On March 5, Arrington asked to be released from his contract -- and essentially paid the team $4 million for his freedom. The Giants signed Arrington to a seven-year, $49 million contract, but the No. 56 that Arrington wore in homage to Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor had been retired. Arrington now wears No. 55.

In the days leading to the Redskins game, Arrington has been unusually low-key, not wishing to inspire newspaper clippings the Redskins would use for motivation.

"I don't think there is any type of T.O. spin to this whatsoever," Arrington told reporters at Giants Stadium on Thursday. "Nor will it become anything of that, unless somebody tries to paint it that way."

A few weeks ago, however, he discussed the upcoming game with ESPN.

"I don't have any experience on this," Arrington said. "So I could speculate that it will be excitement, anticipation, but I'm not quite sure.

"When I signed on with the Giants, I felt like we had an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. My whole focus is that every game is one march that is taking us closer to our ultimate goal. So I try not to put my personal feelings or different goals ahead of what the team is.

"I'm a team player; I don't have a personal thing towards trying to beat them. I'm saying this now, but I don't know how I'll feel on game day. I'm sure it will be kind of hard to block all that out once I get out there and see the Redskins."

Which is far closer to the truth than the beginning of that quote.

Clearly, players are extra motivated when they play against their old teams. After quarterback Brad Johnson led the Minnesota Vikings to victory at Washington in the opener of "Monday Night Football," he emerged from the locker room wearing his familiar Redskins jersey.

"It was an emotional game," Johnson said. "For sure, it was fun to do."

After Johnson spent five seasons with the Vikings, the Redskins traded for him in 1999 and he rewarded them with a trip to the playoffs. After a disappointing 8-8 season in 2000, the Redskins and Johnson parted ways.

Clearly, players get amped up to impress their former teams. Revenge might be the sweetest form of gratification.

"I definitely think there's motivation there," said Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who may or may not be the starter Dec. 3, when Arizona visits St. Louis, with which he won a Super Bowl. "Guys want to go in and prove to their old organization that they can still play, that they never should have let them go.

"I think there's always motivation when somebody tells you you're not worth the money or not good enough to play here anymore."

Mark Brunell was the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback for nine seasons, leading them to two AFC Championship Games, but was replaced by Byron Leftwich in 2003. Was it a coincidence that Brunell had a monstrous day Sunday against the team that traded him away in March 2004?

All Brunell did was complete 18 of 30 passes for 329 yards and three touchdowns -- all to Santana Moss -- including the game-winning 68-yard scoring play in overtime. The Redskins beat the Jaguars 36-30, and Brunell produced the first 300-yard game of his 15-game tenure in Washington. This despite playing with a nasty gash on his throwing elbow.

"It was interesting," he said. "I don't know if there were any emotions, but it was weird looking across and at that color jersey."

In another reunion of sorts this past Sunday, former Rams head coach Mike Martz returned to St. Louis (where he was fired after last season) as the offensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. He got a hug from former receiver Torry Holt, and Detroit scored an uncharacteristic 34 points -- but still managed to fall to 0-4 with a 41-34 loss.

On Sept. 24, Carolina wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson scored not one but two touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first return to Tampa in three years, Johnson made a big difference in a 26-24 victory. He caught seven passes for 97 yards and scored his first rushing touchdown since 1998, when he played for the New York Jets.

Seau, a future Hall of Famer who earned his way to 12 Pro Bowls in San Diego, finds himself in a curious spot against the Dolphins. Entering his 17th season in the NFL, Seau was released by Miami back in March. He reluctantly announced his retirement in his native San Diego on Aug. 14, saying he was graduating.

After four days of retirement, the Patriots called. New England, which hasn't drafted a linebacker before the fifth round in Bill Belichick's seven seasons as head coach, was in the market for some help in the middle of its defense. Seau, 37, was the answer. He leads the Patriots with 27 tackles, nearly halfway to his high of 66 with the Dolphins in 2003.

"It's always nice to see your friends," Seau said of Sunday's game. "I have a lot of respect for the leaders in that locker room. It's a great organization, and they gave me an opportunity I'll never forget.

"This is a game we both need. [Sunday] is going to be big, with the bye after that. We don't want a gray cloud over our head going into the bye week."

Rest assured, there will be a black cloud hanging over Owens in Philadelphia.

He's still dogged by questions of exactly what happened early last week in Dallas. Was it a suicide attempt? A drug overdose? A misunderstanding? Forgotten are his nine catches for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots. His ruined relationship with quarterback Donovan McNabb was cited by most fans.

McNabb said he sent Owens a text message this week wishing him well, but Owens said he never received it.

"I haven't seen him or talked to him," Owens said Wednesday. "It is what it is. He plays for the Eagles. I'm playing for the Cowboys.

"Once we win, it will be special. It will probably be the most-watched game throughout the year besides the Super Bowl."

According to ticket brokers, Owens has added more than $100 to the value of a ticket, giving it the rough equivalent of a second-round playoff game. His reception will be chilly and, almost certainly, executed in poor taste. Fans say they will dress as pill vials, some accompanied by significant others dressed as nurses. There will be boos, of course, and variations on the T.O. song, substituting the letters O.D. Pill bottles undoubtedly will be thrown on the field; hopefully fans won't fill them with C-size batteries.

"Remember when we hit Santa Claus with snowballs?" said one rowdy diner at Pat's. "It's going to be worse than that."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.