T.O. in headlines for right reasons | VailDaily.com

T.O. in headlines for right reasons

Jaime Aron
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, NOV. 17-18 ** FILE ** Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens head toward the end zone after hauling in a Tony Romo pass, for a fourth-quarter touchdown in the Cowboys' 31-20 victory over the New York Giants in an NFL football game at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

IRVING, Texas ” His coach calls him “our resident superstar,” meaning it as a compliment.

His quarterback is riding a dazzling wave of success, much of it for throwing him the ball.

And his team, the Dallas Cowboys, is 8-1, the chic pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Could life be any better for Terrell Owens? Why, yes, it can ” and it is.

T.O. is not only among the league leaders in catches, yards and touchdowns, he will be in top 10 on the career lists in all three categories in the next few weeks, likely before he turns 34 in early December.

But that’s still not all.

Owens also can proudly note that this deep into a story about what kind of season he’s having there is not a single mention of trouble. Because there hasn’t been any. It’s nothing but smiles from Owens and praise from his bosses and teammates.

“I’m focused this year,” he said. “I know we have something special here with this team. We’re not 8-1 for a fluke. I’m just trying to do my part.”

Skepticism is understandable considering T.O.’s past. Besides, it’s hard not to be happy on a team doing as well as the Cowboys.

Yet his explanation of why he’s changed makes perfect sense, especially when you remember that nearly all the negative headlines in his career come from personality clashes.

“I’m just fortunate to play with a group of guys that believe in me and with a group of coaches that believe in me,” he said.

That certainly wasn’t the case last year, when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed Owens and coach Bill Parcells made it pretty clear he didn’t want the guy around, constantly referring to Owens as “the player.” Owens made a bad situation worse with how he handled some things, then health became a factor, including an accidental overdose.

Once Parcells left, Jones never hesitated bringing back Owens. After all, if a disgruntled Owens led the NFL in touchdown catches last year, Jones wondered what a happy Owens could do.

Then Jones made several Owens-friendly hires. He turned the team over to Wade Phillips, guaranteeing a relaxed atmosphere. He turned the offense over to Jason Garrett, who played in Dallas with Michael Irvin, so he knows all about talented, flamboyant receivers. And Jones turned the receivers over to Ray Sherman, who is respected and even beloved by players.

The moves weren’t strictly to appease T.O., but they definitely were made with him in mind. The numbers show it was a good strategy.

Owens leads the NFC with 855 yards receiving and his eight touchdown catches are tied for the conference lead. His 50 receptions are seventh in the conference and have him on pace for his most since a career-high 100 in 2002.

Using T.O. as a target or a decoy, Tony Romo has become the top-rated quarterback in the NFC and the yardage leader. He also just signed a $67.5 million contract. Romo has risen from obscurity to stardom by throwing 18 of his 42 career TDs to Owens; no one else has more than eight.

“I trust him, and the fact that he’s going to try and get open every play,” Romo said. “He just wants to win and be a great player.”

It hasn’t all gone smoothly, though.

After opening the season with three strong games, defenses seemed to figure out how to slow Owens. His numbers went way down the next three games. But in the three games since, Owens has produced 103, 174 and 125 yards and four touchdowns, including a 45-yarder and a 50-yarder. His work in a 31-20 win over the Giants last Sunday was decisive.

How did Owens handle the lull? With zipped lips.

“That is me maturing, me growing up,” Owens said. “In the past, I have said things out of frustration. I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard. With these coaches, I don’t really have to do that. They understand the player that I am and what I can do.”

Phillips came into his relationship with Owens with only one preconceived notion. It was a good one, too, regarding the way Owens recovered from a severe leg injury in time to play in the Super Bowl for the Eagles.

“Every doctor said he wasn’t going to make it back, but he came back and played, and played really well,” Phillips said. “That tells me a lot about the individual, as far as being a team player.”

Now that he knows him, Phillips is impressed that Owens works as hard in practice as he does in games.

Before dismissing that as lip service to appease a star player, consider the coach’s actions that support his words.

When Dallas played Philadelphia a few weeks ago, Phillips took the unusual step of making Owens a captain for the week. It wasn’t just a ceremonial thing for the coin toss, either, as he had Owens speak to the entire team after every practice leading up to the game. Owens responded with 10 catches, 175 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win.

Still not convinced? Then consider this insight from Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten, who has seen Owens’ demeanor in the locker room change from last year to this.

“He’s just more open,” Witten said. “It wasn’t bad last year, he was just guarded. He’s got his guard down now. He’s just one of our teammates.”

The irony about Owens’ bad-boy image is that he’s never been in trouble with the law and he’s always kept himself in great shape. (According to promotional material, you can too through his new fitness product, Bodylastics Terrell Owens Super Strong Man Edition.)

A byproduct of his longevity is his career statistics, which place him among the best receivers in NFL history.

With his next catch, Owens will be alone in 10th place on the career list. He’s about two games from cracking the top 10 in yards and already is No. 4 in touchdown catches. With Marvin Harrison hurt, Owens’ next trip to the end zone will tie them for third place.

Speaking of touchdowns, there is one subject that still gets T.O.’s blood boiling: the NFL’s crackdown on celebrations.

His latest run-in with the league was over a personalized towel he held out for the cameras. His faux pas was that it isn’t licensed by the NFL; it’s only available on his Web site. At $6.99 each; he’ll have to sell more than 1,400 to cover his $10,000 fine.

But what really rankles Owens is that the league-owned NFL Network has used video of his towel-waving to hype the Cowboys-Packers game it will be broadcasting.

“That’s crazy,” Owens said. “It’s like a double-standard. They fine me for it, but then they’re promoing my towel for viewers to watch their games. It’s ridiculous.”

See how much things have turned around? When Owens says something salty these days, he’s right.

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