By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Because the only justification for stomaching Terrell Owens is a championship. And, after another egregious home loss in which their egocentric receiver dropped another key pass, the Dallas Cowboys aren't going to win the Super Bowl.
Selling your soul to Beelzebub for an NFL title is a guilty pleasure. But hawking your class, tradition and image to be a wild card is just plain guilty. Sometime between the inevitable playoff road loss in January and the start of 2007 training camp in July, I suggest head coach Bill Parcells retires. But I ask, plead, beg—demand—the Cowboys to rid themselves of Owens.
Admit it, the gamble has failed.
Flash back to that surreal Saturday in March and the creepiest news conference in franchise history. There's T.O., owner of a three-year, $25 million contract and, purportedly, a new character.
Says Owens to Jerry Jones: "I know what's expected of me. I won't let you down."
Says Owens to his new teammates: "I'll be a better teammate, a better person, a better man in life."
Says Owens to the fans: "Getcha popcorn ready, 'cuz it's gonna be a show."
Getcha moving van loaded, because T.O. has been a giant N.O.
Owens, remember, arrived in Dallas to deliver a Super Bowl. But as they prepare for Sunday's season finale against the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys are no better than a year ago. A playoff team, yes. But better? No. They're again 9-6, with zero chance of playing into February.
If you really think the Cowboys can win three straight road playoff games you probably also believe gift cards are thoughtful, personal presents. Likewise, you were naïve enough to put faith in Owens as Dallas' savior.
With a win over the hapless Lions and a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys could still get to 10 wins and back into the NFC East division championship. But after presenting Texas Stadium with a lump of coal and a Merry Effin' Christmas collapse, they don't deserve it. After the listless 23-7 loss to Philly, most likely and most appropriately the Cowboys will head to Seattle to seek their first playoff win since 1996.
Sure they can win. But lately they haven't produced consecutive quality quarters, much less games. With the division crown, a first-round bye and playoff validation on the line, the Cowboys were unceremoniously raped in front of a national television audience, God, Santa and even quarterback Tony Romo's latest love interest, Carrie Underwood.
Bye-bye, bye. Hello, rocky road to nowhere.
"We were noncompetitive," Parcells said, slapping his team with the ultimate insult. "There's not anything really good to say."
Added Jones, "I'm disgusted...As frustrated as I've been in 17 years as owner."
Since beating the Giants to improve to 8-4, the Cowboys have violently digressed into a pedestrian outfit. They lost consecutive home games by a combined 41 points and allowed 12 touchdowns and 433 yards per outing. And in the gift-wrapped opportunity against the Eagles, the defense surrendered 204 rushing yards, and the offense dripped a season-low seven points.
"I am embarrassed," said cornerback Terence Newman. "If we play like this, we might as well hang it up and not even play in the playoffs."
As has been the case all season, Owens wasn't the solution, but merely a part of the problem.
Trailing 16-7 early in the third quarter, Romo escaped a heavy rush on third-and-19 and hurled a gorgeous bomb down the left sideline. Owens, after briefly stopping his route, earned a step on Eagles Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins. Romo's pass hit Owens in stride at the Philly 27. A catch would've created a possible touchdown and only a two-point deficit or, at the very least, a tangible momentum swing.
But as he's done consistently all season, T.O. dropped the ball—15 games, 14 drops.
"By the time I looked up and located the ball," Owens explained by way of deflecting blame, "it was right on me."
So? Great players catch balls that are "right on me." Pro Bowl receivers turn miraculous throws into game-changing touchdowns. Franchise players make plays; self-serving slime balls make excuses.
In the immortal words of publicist Kim Etheredge, Terrell Owens had 25 million reasons to make that catch. But the ball—along with the Cowboys' ultimate goal—slipped through his hands. Just like another one did in the second half that prompted Christmas jeer, like the shoulda-been touchdown in Washington and like—in all—the league-worst 14 botches.
Still its biggest ego, Owens is no longer the NFL's best receiver. As grotesque as it was watching him beat the Cowboys as an opponent, isn't it doubly disgusting seeing him do it as one of their own?
T.O., I hate me some you.
Remember when you thought all the defensive attention Owens attracted would make those around him better, more productive? After 15 games, not so much. The offense is averaging six points more than a year ago, but Drew Bledsoe got benched. Terry Glenn has only two more catches. Jason Witten has five fewer touchdowns. Julius Jones has 1,000 yards but, take away the 77-yard gallop against New Orleans, only 127 in the last four games.
I know, T.O. caught his league-leading 12th touchdown against the Eagles. But he hasn't made a superstar impact—according to voting by fans, players and coaches, not even a Pro Bowl impact. In fact, he's produced only one unique, special, signature catch—the one-handed touchdown snatch against Atlanta. His strength was supposed to be those abundant run-after-catch yards but, quick, name T.O.'s best instinctive improvisation of the season? Hmm. Me neither.
After the game, of course, Owens didn't let his two-catch, two-drop fiasco muffle his self-aggrandizing, petulant persona.
"I just feel like I'm not involved early in the game," said a smug Owens, proudly wearing a "Cowboys" Santa hat in the wake of a 16-point loss. "It's hard to get in the flow when you're getting a ball here, a ball there. Then late in the game, they start throwing the ball to me. It's too late."
Taking a page from Parcells' surprisingly successful ignorance toward Owens—"I've tried to make it a habit not to talk too much about the player"—I'm only now mentioning T.O.'s subtle disaster off the field, just now addressing the endless incidents that by Week 17 have a nagging, negative cumulative effect. Finally, fatally, bringing up the shit that makes Owens sooo not worth it, like the hamstring...the overdose...the tardiness...the arguments...the napping...the birthday party...the inappropriate smiling...the faking...the spitting...the dominoes with Eagles players on Christmas Eve...T.O. must go.