Romo Holiday

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"They're real similar, actually," Romo says. "Except for the language. Bill's was a little more salty."

Phillips' offense, now in the hands of Garrett, features the same weapons as a year ago with a commitment to further capitalizing on Owens, stretching secondaries with Witten down the middle and flipping passes to running backs Julius Jones and Marion Barber in the flat, a la Emmitt Smith in the '90s. Phillips' defense, an attacking 3-4 scheme aimed at creating sacks and turnovers, will move hard-hitting safety Roy Williams closer to the line of scrimmage but be susceptible to big plays.

The Cowboys should at the very least be a playoff team, and at the very most go 11-5, win the NFC East and play in the NFC Championship Game. Which, of course, is about the scariest thing a first-year head coach can hear, aside from "I'm Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC...what exactly are you doing here?"

The question marks are few but significant. Can Gramatica be a dependable kicker? Will leading pass rusher Greg Ellis recover from last year's season-ending Achilles injury? Will free-agent investments Leonard Davis (guard) and Ken Hamlin (safety) be assets or albatrosses?

And not if—rather when and how—will T.O. erupt?

As opposed to last year when he only rode a stationary bike in camp, was only called "the player" by Parcells and was thrown passes only after the first quarter in games, Owens is being treated like a human being with superhuman skills.

"Hey, Terrell Owens!" Garrett barks toward the receiver during the first practice. "Listen up."

Trying both to maximize his talents and minimize distractions which last year included sleeping during meetings, an accidental drug overdose, a vague knowledge of the playbook, a broken finger and a league-leading 17 drops that diluted his league-leading 13 touchdowns, the Cowboys are dedicated to feeding Owens the ball in various spots from differing sets. The first play of camp, for example, was a reverse to No. 81.

"Last year? I don't remember that. I'm having a memory lapse," Owens jokes during camp. "Just remember that what I did was with 1 ½ hands. Seriously, it was a lack of concentration on my part, and I can't really put my finger on why. I'm happy this season. I have no reason not to be happy."

After regularly arguing with receivers coach Todd Haley and only thinly disguising his disgust for Bledsoe's sub-par play last year, Owens so far has a seamless chemistry with Romo. Still, you'd have to be crazier than Lindsay Lohan to think the two won't bump heads at some point.

"We've got great communication, and he's a great quarterback, but the best I've played with?" says Owens, repeating a ridiculous question. "It's hard to say he's up there with Steve Young. He knows he's got a ways to go before that. But he's got that kind of talent."

Before his first touchdown pass this season, fans are already treating Romo like Ring of Honor royalty. The chanting. The fawning. The cell-phone pics. The autographs. The expectations.

"I understand when we win on Sunday it makes people in Dallas happier, and that's cool. It's how it should be," Romo says. "And sure, at the end of the day, people act differently around me now than a year ago."

And vice versa.

In his prime Aikman fraternized with the country band Shenandoah, even checking into a Los Angeles hospital for back surgery in '93 under the alias of the group's drummer, Mike McGuire. And we could have sworn that giant at the Godsmack gig at the Palladium last month was offensive tackle Marc Colombo. But not since Nate Newton served 32 months in federal prison for toting pot in the back of his truck has a Cowboy played nice with such a nasty, notorious group as Romo and Metal Skool.

Back onstage in Dallas one band member jokes about boinking another's mom, someone accuses someone else of boinking his own sister, then they play some guitar-cranking, hair-slinging songs we all boinked to in the back seat 20 years ago and everybody has a good time. The only line-crossing groans come when lead guitarist Satchel strategizes on avoiding unwanted pregnancy by seducing girls so young that "their fallopian tubes aren't yet developed..."

Finally, with Romo's set complete and his last bow taken, Starr offers his prediction on the upcoming season:

"Tony, you're going to have the best season ever. If not...shit, man, you'll be replaced by some other dude and you'll never sing with us again."

Even considering Romo's ascension, Starr has no idea how close to the truth he is concerning a fickle position in the most fickle of towns. Romo just might lead the Cowboys to Super Bowl XLII February 3, 2008, in Arizona. Or...

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt