This is a day to mourn, Eagles fans. News that many believed would happen did happen: The Dallas Cowboys released wide receiver Terrell Owens, who will now try to find a new home for the fourth time in his NFL career. It is not a day, however, to laugh at Dallas or throw out a big "I told you so." Instead, it is a day to lament that some of the greatest theatre in the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry comes to a close.
In three seasons in Dallas, Owens' presence helped elevate an already-great emotional pitch whenever the Eagles played Dallas. The Eagles were 4-2 against Dallas in those three season when Owens played with the star on his helmet, and each victory was sweet and highly-memorable and, yeah, just a little more special because Owens was on the other sideline.
There was never a more-hyped regular season game than when Owens made his return to Lincoln Financial Field in the 2006 campaign. It was one of the hardest tickets to get in the regular-season history of the Eagles, an October 8 game played on national television: The Eagles against Owens, who conspired against the team in 2005, just one season after his one-year wonder in Philadelphia. In 2004, Owens was the toast of Philadelphia. He was taken in by a normally-skeptical Eagles fan base like no other player in recent time. The songs. The chants. The uniform sales ...
All of that was forgotten two years later when the Cowboys visited and Owens strutted in wearing his familiar No. 81. And the game was one for the ages, one that actually lived up to the hype. Owens was a non-factor that day, catching just 3 passes for 45 yards as the Eagles beat Dallas 38-24, sealing the game on the breathtaking Lito Sheppard goal line interception and touchdown return. It was an amazing game, and an incredible way to start off the Owens' Cowboys vs. Eagles series.
The next time they played was later that season, December 25 to be exact, in Dallas. Jeff Garcia was the Eagles' quarterback then, leading the team on a late-season charge that landed the Eagles their fifth NFC East title in Andy Reid's coaching era here. The Eagles dominated Owens and the Cowboys, winning 23-7, and Owens caught 2 passes, one for a touchdown. It was a highlight game for the Eagles and what you saw was a defense that swarmed Owens and quarterback Tony Romo, and an offense that controlled the football and established the line of scrimmage from the very start. What you didn't see was some of the nastiest sideline-talking rants I have ever witnessed as the Eagles screamed at Owens from the sidelines as the margin on the scoreboard widened. Sweet, indeed.
The teams split in 2007. The first time around, Owens had 10 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown as the Dallas offense dominated the struggling Eagles in a 38-17 Cowboys win. And there was Owens, flapping his arms, mocking the Eagles fans at Lincoln Financial Field. A front-runner all the way, Owens played it up for the cameras, who bought every second. It was of the ugliest games of an 8-8 season, and the Cowboys looked at that time like a team ready to take advantage of its tremendous talent and go on a deep playoff run.
However, the next time the teams met on December 16 in Texas Stadium, Owens and the Cowboys were reprising what has become commonplace in Big D: The late-season flop. The Eagles traded punches with Dallas and emerged with a 10-6 victory. Owens was quiet in the game. He did not wave his arms, other than to urge quarterback Tony Romo to throw more his way. The only flapping Owens did was to open his big mouth on the sidelines at coaches and players and anyone who would listen. By that point, though, it was obvious that Owens was a shrinking presence in Dallas, both for his on-field talents and his flamboyant mannerisms.
Last season, of course, the Eagles and Cowboys split their two games. Owens and the Cowboys won in Week 2, in large part because the Eagles allowed Owens to get free on an early pump-fake-and-go route that he caught beyond the secondary and then raced into the end zone for a score, and then because later in the first half Owens was put in the right place a the right time and ran a slant route to get open for another touchdown from Romo. Owens had 3 catches for 89 yards in the first half before the Eagles shut him down in the next two quarters. Still, Dallas won the shootout.
In the final game of the regular season, the Eagles destroyed Dallas and humiliated Owens in what turned out to be his final game in a Cowboys uniform. That Owens padded his beloved statistics was irrelevant, because the Eagles put a whupping on da Boys like they have rarely been flogged. It was a day to remember on a lot of levels.
One of them is that it turned out to be the final game in the Dallas-Eagles series where Owens plays a role.
I'm going to miss him, and I'm going to say a mini-prayer every day that either the Giants or the Redskins make the move to add Owens to their locker room. Oh, it would be a joy to see Owens twice a year again just to marvel at the enormous waste of incredible talent and athletic drive God has given him. There is nothing like having a villain on the other side so that in the three hours of entertainment that is a football game there is always something to root for and someone to root against.
I heard the news of Owens' pending release Wednesday night and told the kids and the wifey. My son is tuned into the game, and his response was so mature for a 13-year-old child.
"Who would want to play with him, daddy?"
Apparently, there are some Eagles fans who are willing to dance with the devil (in football terms only). I left the gym this morning and Brendan, an otherwise sane and intelligent and reasonable man shouted to me from the treadmill, "I would do it. He's better than any of the receivers we have."
I could only keep walking away. But I will address anyone out there who thinks even for a moment -- and I know there are some of you reading -- that Owens would be a good fit for the Eagles. First, he is not better than any of the receivers the Eagles have. Oh, I don't think any of them match Owens' incredible skills and it's probable that none of them will ever approach his career statistics. But playing receiver -- just playing -- in the NFL is so much more than piling up the numbers. There are other things involved, like knowing how to work within a team concept, like understanding the flow of the game, like keeping the things that should be kept inside a locker room there, in the vault. Owens is the worst teammate to ever step into an Eagles locker room, bar none.
As for his physical skills, Owens remains a very good receiver. But he is no longer a dominating No. 1 player. He is diminishing before our very eyes. The burst is off, by just a touch. He isn't as strong as he used to be. Owens is certainly capable of cranking it up every now and again -- his 7-catch, 213-yard, 1-touchdown game against San Francisco last year is evidence of that -- but the consistency isn't there any more. That 49ers game, by the way, was Owens' only plus-100-yard game of the 2008 season until he caught some meaningless passes in the blowout loss to the Eagles.
I would take DeSean Jackson over Owens any day of the week. It's true that Jackson isn't 6 feet 3, and 218 pounds. Jackson will never overpower any defensive back and he is always going to have to answer the "is he big enough?" question. But Jackson's approach to the game, even as a rookie, blows away Owens. Jackson says the right things and he does the right things. For a kid who entered the league with a questionable reputation, Jackson sure showed in 2008 that he was mature beyond his years and is on his way to one heck of an NFL career if he keeps doing the right things.
Owens? He's on the downside, a cancer to all around him. The Cowboys finally wised up after three seasons. Dallas, easily the most talented team in the NFC the last few seasons, hasn't won a playoff game since 1996. They seem to be wising up to the idea that talent alone doesn't win in the big leagues.
As for wide receiver here -- because I know there will be a legion of you continuing to beg for a "star" wide receiver -- the Eagles are going to keep their eyes open. They would love to add a "difference-making" receiver, and if that opportunity presents itself, they will do so. Now, they could add Owens, but he would make a difference the other way. The wrong way. And Andy Reid, who went out on a limb once for Owens, isn't going to do it again. No way. No how.
What we have to do is campaign and hope that the Giants and Redskins are willing to take that chance. It would be shocking to see the Giants do that. New York has a rich NFL history and builds its franchise the right way. Even when the Giants are down, it doesn't last long. The Giants are a good football organization. Washington may be willing to take that chance, but to add Owens and give him, oh, $10 or $15 million more reasons to live would force the Redskins to chop off 3 or4 players from the roster, and I'm not sure Daniel Snyder wants to do that.
Another possible landing spot is Oakland, which has no sense of what it's doing in the NFL. The Raiders and Owens could be a match made in merchandising heaven. And the good thing is, the Raiders are on the schedule this year.
We need Owens in Oakland. We need at least one T.O. fix this season. The flame of his career is flicking, folks. Time is running out on the maybe biggest waste of talent the league has seen in recent years. Owens will find a home. Let's hope we have a chance to see him in his new uniform and enjoy the opportunity to face him against in another must-see event in 2009.