Eyes Wide Shut

Blinded by desperation, Cowboys refuse to see T.O. as B.S.

You wouldn't hire Charles Barkley to be the Mavericks' team psychologist. Put Robin Ventura in charge of the Rangers' alumni association. Or name Lee Harvey Oswald Inc. as Dallas' public relations firm.

Um, then why in the world would you applaud the signing of Terrell Owens as a Dallas Cowboy?

After a sickening, surreal Saturday spent hoping George Teague would run onto the dais, knock Owens out of his chair and transform the event into a Saturday Night Live skit instead of letting it proceed as the creepiest press conference in Cowboys history, there are only two answers:

1. You're naïve.

2. You're numb.

Without as much as forcing him to meet head coach Bill Parcells face-to-face or publicly utter remorseful words like "sorry" or "mistake," the Cowboys signed Owens to a three-year, $25 million contract that instantly climaxed the championship-over-character erosion of the franchise formerly known as America's Team.

March Madness, make way for March Sadness.

Call me sentimental, silly or both, but it's impossible to differentiate between what Owens is and who Owens is. No doubt he's one of the NFL's best receivers, a playmaker who gives Dallas a legitimate shot of having its first Pro Bowl receiver since '95 and its first playoff victory since '96. But, in case you forgot, he's also the asshole who's ravaged two NFL teams and, twice in a 2000 game at Texas Stadium, ran to the middle of the field after touchdowns and desecrated the most sacred star in sports by simply standing on it.

Yes, it's just a symbol. No, Tex Schramm isn't buried beneath it. But the Cowboys' pride and tradition has always set them apart from every other team in the NFL. Until now.

"Yes, I'm upset, because there used to be some pride in who wore the star on their helmet," former Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson said Monday on Sirius satellite radio. "There are certain people that you just knew would never ever be in a Cowboy unifrom, and T.O. was at the top of that list."

Naïve?

The Cowboys and some fans actually believe the preposterous notion that Owens will be the same player he's always been on the field and magically morph into a different person he's never been off the field.

Owner Jerry Jones even hinted that, yes, in fact, 32-year-old leopards can change their spots.

No they can't.

Owens will do to Dallas what he did in San Francisco and Philadelphia. He will catch passes, complain about money and, ultimately, crater the locker room without delivering a Super Bowl. With the 49ers he called quarterback Jeff Garcia gay. With the Eagles he called quarterback Donovan McNabb a quitter. In other words, take cover, Drew Bledsoe.

The Cowboys that won three Super Bowls weren't exactly choirboys. The difference, of course, was that players like Charles Haley, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders exercised their demons in the "White House," not in the huddle. For all his antics and actions, Irvin remained a devoted teammate who not once called out a teammate in public.

In the end, Owens always makes it personal. And permanent.

During his initial Valley Ranch appearance--by the way, it's inexcusable for Parcells to be absent and unavailable to help fans swallow this sour transaction--T.O. became a defensive player. But what, if anything, did we hear to change our minds about his past, present or future?

"I'm sorry"? Nope.

"I've made some mistakes"? Nope.

How about, "I know what's expected of me, and I won't let you down"? Yep.

Worst lie since Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations...", Bonds' "I did not knowingly take steroids..." and everyone's "Weird, I never got that e-mail."

But go ahead, trust T.O.

Wanna great deal on some Enron stock?

By the way, 3-to-1 those sparkling 1-carat doorknobs in Owens' ears are cubic zirconium. Because with T.O., everything but the football is fake.

For every lifelong, nauseated Cowboys die-hard stubbornly ready to lose without Owens rather than win with him, there's a new era of boneheaded, bottom-line fan ready to forgive, forget and forge an idol-worship relationship with the NFL's biggest ego.

"You better believe it," T.O. once said famously, "I love me some me."

Numb?

Apparently living in a sports town that recently welcomed the likes of bad boys Dennis Rodman, John Rocker and Keyshawn Johnson has softened our spine, because Cowboys fans are welcoming the opportunity to sell their soul to Beelzebub.

"This is a match made in heaven," said Owens' agent Drew Rosenhaus, speak of the devil. "It's a fresh start...there will be a happy ending."

(FYI, every time I listen to Rosenhaus my ears bleed and my watch stops.)

We're not breaking news here; the line between good and evil has long been blurred by comedian Howard Stern, President George Dubya, cartoon Bart Simpson and former Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers. But it was a better world--a better franchise--when Cowboys quarterback Clint Longley sucker-punched Roger Staubach and was traded by sundown.

I know we're a forgiving society, especially when it's self-serving. I know, in the immortal words of noted theologian Jerry Seinfeld, that we don't cheer players, we cheer laundry. And I also know that the same people crying about T.O.'s reputation now will likely be clapping for his receptions later.

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