OXNARD, Calif. —Terrell Owens had a quizzical look when he heard the question. Then came his response, “What distractions?”
With T.O., there really are none these days.
“I’m content where I am,” Owens said Saturday, after the Dallas Cowboys had their first training camp practice in pads. “I know I’m going to be a Cowboy for life.”
Things are much different from his first training camp with the Cowboys two years ago, when they were last in California and Owens spent more time riding a stationary bicycle than catching passes with a sore hamstring. Not to mention all the head-butting with Bill Parcells.
Plus, there are no contract issues. That potential distraction was eliminated when Jerry Jones gave Owens a three-year extension this summer. His deal now goes through 2011 instead of expiring after this season.
“I’m just playing free, stress-free, and just going out here and just trying to get my team better from every aspect of the game,” the 34-year-old Owens said.
Since his inauspicious start that first California camp, when he missed more than half of the practices, Owens has had two touchdown-filled seasons for Dallas. His 28 TD catches were the most in the NFL, and he had a team record last season when he was a Pro Bowler for the sixth time.
But that still hasn’t translated into another Super Bowl appearance, or even a postseason victory for the Cowboys, who lost their only playoff games the past two seasons.
It’s been 11 years since the Cowboys won a playoff game, and Owens’ primary goal is to change that.
“The thing you notice most about him, he talks about team a lot. He wants to win,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “He understands at this stage of his career, he has done all the things individually he can do. Now it’s just a matter of winning, and I think we tasted a little bit of that success for 90 percent last year. Now it’s just time to finish.”
After the Cowboys’ 21-17 playoff loss to the New York Giants in January, Owens shed tears—his bottom lip quivering, his voice wavering—and blubbered “That’s my quarterback,” when he spoke in defense of Romo, whose previous weekend getaway to Mexico with Jessica Simpson had been questioned.
“It’s no secret that he wants to win a championship,” Romo said. “He knows everybody else does, so it hurts him when the team isn’t able to win.”
Owens helped Philadelphia get to the Super Bowl in the 2004 season, the same year he got a $48.97 million, seven-year contract from the Eagles. But he complained about that deal the next year and was cut by the Eagles midway through the next season.
When Owens got to Dallas in 2006, he was paired with Parcells, the former coach who referred to him as “the player” instead of by name. After the daily drama of their only training camp together, Owens sustained a broken finger early that season and had an accidental overdose with pain medication.
Parcells left after the 2006 season, and a first-round playoff loss in Seattle, and was replaced by the more laid-back Wade Phillips. The Cowboys matched a franchise record with 13 victories their first season under Phillips.
“Coach Wade’s approach is refreshing, and it bodes well for the team. I think everybody’s responding well,” Owens said. “It’s night and day. I can’t say enough about Wade.”
Phillips said Owens has been great as a “player and a teammate and a team player.”
The coach also compared Owens with two Hall of Famers Phillips spent time with late in their careers, Denver quarterback John Elway and Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas.
“He’s at a point of his career where he knows he’s going to be an All-Star, maybe even Hall of Fame-type player. … I don’t think he’s worried about that as much as he is the team winning,” Phillips said. “(Players) get to a certain point to where they want the team to win and that’s really the most important thing for them and that makes the best teammate. I think he seems to be at that point.”
During the morning workout Saturday, Owens caught a long pass from Romo despite good coverage from Terence Newman.
In another drill, Owens fell to the ground and slapped his hands together after being denied a ball by Adam Jones. But a few players later, T.O. got back at the player who no longer wants to be known as “Pacman” when he shed the cornerback for a tough catch.
Like he did with the signing of Owens in 2006, Jerry Jones became a target of criticism when he acquired the still-suspended Adam Jones from Tennessee in April. But Owens knows both moves were made to help the Cowboys finally get to another Super Bowl.
“It’s just about (Jerry Jones’) commitment to winning,” Owens said. “And it shows that. Hell, I’m here.”