This should spell the end for T.O.
So Terrell Owens finally is gone. Rip up that Dallas Cowboys star from midfield – the personal stage he couldn’t resist. Roll it into a steel barrel and seal it with concrete. Then bury it beneath the Texas Stadium parking lot, and for the sake of the next naïve NFL franchise, pray that Owens’ fading career is laid to rest with it.
This can’t happen again. Not after three franchises, three quarterbacks and untold exclusive interviews, all in which Owens sermonizes about how we must understand that he’s merely misunderstood. Even Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can see it now – the reality that in the end, T.O. is nothing more than the NFL’s decaying nuclear reactor: a seduction of heat and energy and power … until it inevitably leaves a bitter nuclear winter in its wake.
Make no mistake, this is what happened Wednesday. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finally realized the needle on the Geiger counter had gone too far into the red, and he dispatched Owens in the first move of a cleanup that could take several seasons. Finally, the owner who fiercely values his own opinion opened his mind and let the outside world change it. Maybe it was the coaching staff or the players or the nagging sliver of doubt in his brain. Whatever it took, Wednesday was Jones finally admitting that he was wrong.
Now it’s up to the rest of the NFL to sit up and take notice. Because some Super Bowl-contending team undoubtedly will wonder what Owens will look like in its scheme. Scores of fans will daydream for a moment, wondering what T.O. would look like next to Randy Moss, or catching passes from Eli Manning, or matching his charisma with Ray Lewis. But what everyone should be seeing at this moment is the most radioactive player in the NFL – a natural disaster just waiting to corrupt the course of another franchise.
Three years ago, Jones took that fantasy and made it a reality. He looked at Owens’ personnel file and never got past the gaudy résumé. It was all about the numbers and the glitz. He scoffed at the notion of trouble, even though Owens’ history screamed of it. He even fractured his relationship with former coach Bill Parcells over it. All Jones saw was a dynamic talent who had the potential to spark a bygone Cowboys era – a player who could dominate a game, while simultaneously justifying added drama by capturing the entertainment spotlight, too. But what he failed to consider was that while Dallas benefited from bad boys like Michael Irvin and Charles Haley, the championships the Cowboys reaped didn’t come at the expense of a divided locker room.
Therein lies what should scare off the rest of the NFL and summarily end Owens’ career this week: the fact that he can’t help but create his own little fiefdoms inside a team. One former Dallas coach said as much at this year’s combine, relating stories about how Owens would go beyond typical dissatisfaction. While almost all NFL wideouts complain at some point about their roles, coaches or quarterbacks, most find a way to problem-solve without destroying a team. Instead, Owens works to build a consensus of disdain among teammates – effectively turning locker rooms into staging grounds for coups d’état.
By the time he forced his way out of San Francisco, he already had turned on quarterback Jeff Garcia privately – an ugliness Owens eventually made known in a variety of ways, including an interview with Playboy Magazine in which he questioned Garcia’s sexuality. Philadelphia was supposed to be the fresh start, complete with a big-armed quarterback and a great supporting cast. But it only took one year for Owens to start a raging forest fire in the Eagles locker room, undermining quarterback Donovan McNabb, disrespecting then-offensive coordinator Brad Childress and even coming to blows with former teammate Hugh Douglas.
Then came 2006, in what was supposed to be the final reclamation project. This would be where Owens finally would capture his Super Bowl ring and lay to rest all his transgressions. We were supposed to believe that maybe Owens had been miscast before and that a bigger stage and a bigger circus was exactly what he needed to blend in. And after Parcells and then-wide receivers coach Todd Haley departed, we were led to believe he had it all: a laid-back head coach in Wade Phillips, an encouraging position coach in Ray Sherman and a quarterback in Tony Romo who was as even-keeled as he was talented. Lest we forget, Owens also had the lucrative long-term contract he was deprived of in Philadelphia.
But what was supposed to be nirvana was nothing short of disappointing. Three years later, the T.O. era in Dallas ends with as many playoff wins as Super Bowl rings – zero. Instead, it was marked by annual controversy and, finally, the seemingly mandatory meltdown. Media reports out of Dallas over the course of last season read like an unchanging manual of self-destruction, complete with Owens allegedly showing an uncanny ability for chirping and bitching and stirring up other teammates.
A former Cowboys coach told Yahoo! Sports last month that he saw Owens do it with fellow wideouts Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton. Other media reports indicated Owens did the same with newly acquired wideout Roy Williams, too, all the while creating a familiar divide between his recruits and some of the familiar targets: the quarterback, the head coach, the wide receivers coach, the offensive coordinator and others. Like his situations in San Francisco and Philadelphia, it wasn’t just Owens having his own problems. It was T.O. convincing other players they should have a problem, too.
So now Jerry Jones finally has stepped in to do some disaster management before all he has left to manage is a smoldering heap of ashes. And Owens will move on without moving on, lobbing hand grenades from wherever he goes next. Perhaps the only thing that can stop the cycle of destruction is the 29 unscathed teams realizing some basic facts.
Maybe teams finally will look past the Hall of Fame résumé and see a malcontent with enough red flags to decorate every porch in China. Maybe they will see a player who is three years older, with skills in a state of decline. Maybe they finally will see Terrell Owens for what he is: a distracting dream of the heat and the energy, followed by fallout that will linger long after he’s gone.