With T.O., the Cowboys' Loss is Buffalo's, um, Loss
Put your popcorn down, the wicked witch is dead.
Late on March 4 Terrell Owens sent a bulk text message that read, simply: "I'm no longer a Dallas Cowboy."
Rejoice, Dallas! It's again safe to like your local football team.
Without the sabotaging, self-aggrandizing receiver who for the last three seasons has constructed impressive stats while imploding the locker room, the Cowboys are a less talented team. They're also a better team. A team that is suddenly—refreshingly—making roster moves based on winning football games rather than popularity contests. A team that will stand behind, rather than trample on, its head coach. And a team that will head into next season's debut in Jonestown Coliseum with the greater good applying chloroform to bullshit individual agendas.
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Welcome back to the world of competitive sports, Dallas Cowboys. God, we missed you.
"I'm leaving America's Team," Owens said over the weekend, after signing with his new team, the Buffalo Bills, "for North America's team."
I haven't laughed this hard at upstate New York since Brett Hull's Stanley Cup-clinching goal in 1999.
Get your napkin ready. The ramifications of Owens' release are juicy. And delicious.
This worked out perfectly for Cowboys fans. As in, you've seen the last of T.O. If we wanted to banish Owens to NFL Siberia—where the megalomaniac's declining skills and escalating ego would be buried under 6 feet of snow and a tiny town's shroud of anonymity—there isn't a more ideal final resting place than Buffalo. Sure, T.O. will be the Bills' best player. But he'll ruin promising quarterback Trent Edwards—like he might've Tony Romo—and the Bills won't sniff the playoffs.
In the end, Owens will endure his personal hell: Universally ignored as a medium fish in a small pond. He'll be fitted for a straight jacket by Week 9.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys can resume focusing on being a better football team instead of inventing ways to spice up their soap opera. On the field the Cowboys won't be improved until they address, through free agency and next month's NFL Draft, holes at receiver, defensive line and in the secondary. But in the locker room, they're already fixed.
No, T.O.'s departure doesn't guarantee the Cowboys will win a Super Bowl. What it does promise is that they won't lose one because of crappy locker-room chemistry.
In the end, Owens deteriorated into a lousy, lazy route-runner with below-average hands who rarely commanded double-team coverage yet always refused to admit he was over the hill. More times than not he got Jane's production out of Tarzan's body. He caught 38 touchdowns in his three years here, but last season had less than 40 yards receiving in eight of Dallas' 16 games.
Ask T.O. and he's as good as Larry Fitzgerald. Ask the stats and he's as good as Lance Moore. Who?
Yet in Dallas, Owens was a captain and, yes, a leader. Appointing to a prominent role a guy who had serious issues with everything from prescription pills to tardiness and everyone from Bill Parcells to Todd Haley was a fundamentally flawed error in judgment. His selfish influence—Guys, we gotta get ours!—was detrimental to players like Marion Barber and Patrick Crayton, and his I-over-we mantra was divisive to the point of destruction. You've heard some Cowboys' voices speak out in support of Owens, indicating he was a great teammate whom they are shocked and saddened to see leave Valley Ranch. Listen closely. None of those voices belong to Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett, Tony Romo, Jason Witten or DeMarcus Ware, otherwise known as the organization's most important people.
This isn't a cockamamie, manufactured search for weapons of mass destruction that never existed. T.O.'s cancer was real and—better late than never—had to be eradicated.
Cutting a future Hall of Famer is never easy, especially when it leaves your roster with a sizable hole and your legacy with an indelible dent. That's why I'm so damn proud of Jones.
Now he knows what we always knew. That selling the Cowboys' soul to Beelzebub was a colossal risk with little chance of reward. You wouldn't hire Charles Barkley to be the Mavericks' psychologist, put Robin Ventura in charge of the Rangers' alumni association or name Lee Harvey Oswald Inc. as Dallas' public relations firm. And that it was preposterous to envision Owens remaining the same player on the field while somehow changing the person he was in the locker room.
As advertised, it was the exact opposite.
It was way back in the March 23, 2006, issue of the Dallas Observer that I warned:
"Terrell Owens will catch touchdowns, complain about everything and, ultimately, crater the Cowboys' locker room without delivering a Super Bowl."
The only justification for signing T.O. back in 2006 was a Super Bowl. With him as a Cowboy, they failed to win even a single playoff game.
They may not win a post-season game next year, either. But it will not be, as we first feared, because Jones morphed into some stubborn, tyrannical strain of Al Davis. Instead, in a spasm of lucidity and humility, the Cowboys' owner listened to his football voices and made prudent transactions.
In this very space last month I lambasted Jones for failing to take his team to his so-called woodshed. But now? Wood chipper.
Gone from the abysmal outfit that ended the most disappointing season in franchise history with an embarrassing 44-6 loss in Philadelphia on December 28: Brian Stewart, Bruce Read, Terrell Owens, Anthony Henry, Brad Johnson, Chris Canty, Roy (Safety) Williams and, in all likelihood, Tank Johnson, Zach Thomas, Keith Davis and Kevin Burnett. In return, the Cowboys have added Jon Kitna, Keith Brooking, Matt Stewart and Igor Olshansky.
Suddenly Jerry is a man of his word, Garrett is a better sleeper and Phillips is a tougher, more respected coach. I get it now. You can't change 61-year-old head coaches, but you can drastically alter their perception by changing their climate.
During his reign of terror, Bill Parcells surrounded himself—at training camp, on the roster and even on his coaching staff—with his guys. Former New York Giants. A couple of ex-New England Patriots. Now, for the first time in his three-year stint, Valley Ranch is getting introduced to Phillips' guys.
Coming off 13 wins and 13 Pro Bowlers, Jones called every shot last season. More talent (Pacman). More exposure (HBO's Hard Knocks). Sensing his team was this close, more was better. But the toll of 9-7 and monumentally failed expectations can weaken any man, even one of Jones' stature and security.
The owner is now allowing Phillips to be a decision-maker, evidenced by the direct links of Olshansky, Stewart and Brooking, who each played under him during stops as defensive coordinator in Atlanta and San Diego. When the Cowboys convene for voluntary off-season workouts on March 30, they'll look at lot more like Wade Phillips' team, and a lot less like Terrell Owens'.
In the wake of T.O.'s release, the Cowboys expect more authority from Phillips, more leadership from Romo and more production from Roy Williams. Not guaranteeing they'll get it, but the biggest obstacle has been hauled off.
Etched on Owens' Cowboys tombstone: Here lies a receiver who would've rather made 11 catches in a loss than 1 catch in a win.
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