EXCLUSIVE: IRVIN 'DISHES' ON T.O.

CARROLLTON, TX - Want insight into the life and times of Terrell Owens as a Cowboy, provided by a guy who helped broker the deal? Pull up a chair for a long, leisurely lunch with me, Michael Irvin and. ... Irvin's landscaper!?

"That's outrageous!'' Irvin says, plucking at his pasta with one hand while using the other hand to leaf through the dollar figures of a landscaper's proposal that would transform the backyard of Michael and Sandy's Plano home into a sort of "Miami Beach, Texas.'' "Man, my career went all wrong. I should of traded in this black thumb for a GREEN thumb!''

Irvin laughs that familiar self-congratulatory gurgle of a laugh, somehow balances on his fork a mountainous ball of pasta, and allows his T.O. tales -- and his Super Bowl vision for this year's Cowboys -- to unfold.

"The first thing I told Terrell to do,'' Irvin tells TheRanchReport.com, "was to get hold of the phone numbers of Drew Bledsoe, Julius Jones, Jason Witten and Terry Glenn. And then I ended up getting the numbers for him, and told him to call them on Monday (March 20, two days after the signing). T.O. told them all one sentence, just one:

'I'm glad to be a part of the team.'''

Irvin has been an Owens advocate from the start of his ordeal in Philadelphia, and confirms that since November, when it became apparent that Owens and the Eagles would divorce, he's petitioned Jerry Jones to consider acquiring the tumultuous-and-talented receiver. Clearly, Irvin even helped get the deal done. But "The Playmaker'' -- no stranger to controversy himself as a former Cowboys wideout, Hall of Fame finalist and ESPN analyst -- concedes that with Owens, conflict is often one misstep away.

"Notice, T.O. didn't call those fellas and say, 'I'm glad to be a part of YOUR team,''' says Irvin, again chuckling but at the same time dead serious. "T.O. has always wanted, needed, the team to be HIS team. So, there are some authority-figure issues there, no question. But there are reasons it can work, reasons I think it will work.''

For instance:

  • Irvin is convinced that Owens is more self-aware than ever before. That's not a guarantee that he'll change his behavior, but Michael takes it as a sign that T.O., at 32, might be nearing the point where he is concerned about his legacy. Says Irvin: "I told him to take me as an example. You get to a certain age, and you look back, and you have to explain to your children why you did what you did. I have some regrets. I told Terrell he will wish, 10, 15 years from now, not to have those same regrets.''

  • Irvin strongly urged Jones that while Owens might not be right for every team, he is right -- and much-needed -- in Dallas. "Maybe a team with a mobile QB doesn't need a receiver like this. Maybe New England can get by doing this or that differently. But Drew and the Cowboys need this. And T.O. and the Cowboys need each other. Tell me now, which team in the NFC is a stronger Super Bowl contender than the Cowboys? Look at the NFC playoff field from a year ago and tell me which of those teams Dallas can't be better than? I'm not an oddsmaker, but T.O. might be worth three points a game to them! I say T.O. makes Dallas a Super Bowl contender, a front-runner.''

  • Owens' "my team'' stuff was an issue with Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, and it was an issue with Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. While some critics decry T.O. taking over a locker room that in 2006 will be absent the presence of leaders like La'Roi Glover and Dan Campbell, Irvin thinks in an exactly opposite way. "I told T.O. there wouldn't be locker-room conflicts because he would be the biggest star on the team in Dallas,'' Irvin says. "Now it's just a matter of him using that authority, that power, the right way.''

  • Irvin also notes that ultimately in Dallas, the locker room "belongs to Bill (Parcells).'' I tell him that I get the distinct impression that Parcells has already bristled at the news that Owens is planning to write an incendiary book, and I know for a fact Owens didn't tell Jerry Jones about that book. Irvin confirms both points. "That's T.O.'s style, and that's not good,'' says Irvin, who adds that initially, Parcells was not in favor of the signing. "Of course, Jerry ultimately won't mind the book. The attention to his Cowboys will be a good thing to him. Maybe not a good thing to Bill -- 'distractions,' he'll say at training camp when the book comes out -- but Bill will handle it. He'll figure out a way to deal with a personality like T.O. by going to T.O.'s roots.''

    I tell Michael that it's wonderful news for the Cowboys and their fans that he sees everything as he does, and potentially wonderful news that Irvin helped Jones and the team see it. But, I add, it'd be even better if Cowboys followers could be assured that Owens himself gets it.

    "I can't guarantee that,'' Irvin says frankly. "I'm not sure T.O. gets it. I just know he's GOTTA get it.''

    When all is said and done, Irvin acknowledges that the Cowboys' acquisition of his friend Terrell Owens represents risk.

    Maybe, along with the fat contract, the muscle of Parcells and the paternal coddling from Jones, Irvin's big-brother presence in the same town calms some of that risk. ... the way thousands of dollars worth of newly-installed backyard palm trees will theoretically calm Florida native Irvin.

    Oh, and speaking of palm trees in the REAL Miami Beach. ...

    "I'll tell you what my perfect dream would be -- and it's setting up just right, by the way,'' Irvin says, as he asks the waiter for the check. "The Hall of Fame voting comes up right for me. The Cowboys are in the Super Bowl. They get there because of Terrell Owens. And you know where the Super Bowl is this year, right? It all happens in my hometown of Miami. Perfect.''

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