The Media Feeding Frenzy

The Friday locker room session that opened the Cowboys' veteran mini-camp was like nothing seen in Valley Ranch in a long time -- maybe ever. One team staffer said the closest he could recall was when the team signed Deion Sanders, but that session was held at Texas Stadium. The arrival of wide receiver Terrell Owens brought an avalanche of media to Valley Ranch that bordered on the comical.

The questions ranged from logical ("how long do you expect the learning curve to be as you adjust to the new offense?") to the unanswerable ("can you tell us what mistakes you've made that you plan to learn from?") to the philosophical ("is part of your job to change the perception people have of you, or can you not do anything about it?") to the ridiculous ("do you feel like a Texan now?")

After all, what was expected of Owens?

For all of the theatrics that preceded his tenure with the Cowboys – the sideline clashes with teammates and coaches, the fracturing of relationships with former quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, the workout he held in his driveway after essentially being fired by the Philadelphia Eagles – Owens was a model citizen as he met the Dallas media for the second time (the team held a press conference March 18 to announce his signing). He said exactly what any public relations expert would have told him to say: I'm going to do what the coaches tell me; I'm going to get along great with Drew Bledsoe; I don't care about the number of receptions I have; I'm happy to be a part of "the greatest organization in the NFL.

But to watch the media hovering around Valley Ranch, it might have appeared that what was expected could have ranged from fanfare to a felony. When the locker room opened, just about every reporter surrounded Bledsoe at his locker, and showed only marginal interest in what the veteran quarterback thought about the offense, his health or how he spent his offseason. From the start, the questions were about Owens, and what Bledsoe expected of him, how he felt he would get along with Owens, if Owens seems like "a good guy," or if Bledsoe could believe the attention afforded his new target. True to form, Bledsoe handled the questions with poise, grace, class and professionalism – as he handles every interview. Roy Williams and Jason Witten could have lit themselves on fire in the locker room and it wouldn't have made it on SportsCenter or in the newspapers.

Before Bledsoe stopped talking, the swarm started to shift. Owens was nowhere in sight, but reporters began to migrate toward the locker on the other side of the room, the one with the No. 81 nameplate. For nearly 15 minutes, they waited.

Owens emerged from the training room with a smile on his face, although it was hard to tell if he was merely relishing the attention or stunned by it.

"Any time the first thing said is, ‘Welcome to the Dallas media,' you're off to a rough start," Dallas Morning News beat writer Matt Mosley said.

Mosley, of course, expected a deluge of reporters because of Owens. But even he was a little surprised by the magnitude of the media presence.

"It was a little more than I expected," he said. "The fact that the questions were so breathless was a little surprising. What's he supposed to say at this point that hasn't come out already? The true fun is going to begin when his book comes out."

Owens was asked about his book, which is expected to be released in July. He didn't go into details, saying only that the book – which is expected to detail some of the events of his stormy two years in Philadelphia, as well as his time in San Francisco – would be "about as close to the truth as you can get.

But for all of Owens' rhetoric about being a model teammate with the Cowboys, Mosley doesn't appear to be completely convinced, at least not yet.

"It's easy to say all the right things about not needing a certain number of balls thrown his way, at least for now," Mosley said. "But let's wait and see how he is a couple of games into the season, when he's got a couple of catches and (rookie tight end) Anthony Fasano is getting eight balls a game thrown his way."

While the Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and local electronic media outlets each had a handful of reporters at Valley Ranch, the T.O. circus was not just a local story.

"This is exactly what I expected," said Kara Henderson of the NFL Network, who flew in to get a front-row seat. "The national media came to cover this, because everyone is waiting to see if (Owens) is a changed man."

Henderson said her hunch was that Owens might just have found a new level of maturity after his less-than-harmonious divorce from the Eagles.

"I don't know him well," she said, "but I would think he's learned a lot during the offseason. I think he's learned about how much he appreciates the opportunity to play here, how much he enjoys playing the game."

Henderson said the closest she's seen to a similar event was when running back Corey Dillon joined the New England Patriots after forcing his way out of Cincinnati.

"They're similar situations," she said. "Both of them had a history. When Corey got to New England, people were waiting to see if history would repeat itself, and to his credit, he did well with the Patriots. I think people are waiting now to see if Owens will be the same guy he was before, or if he can learn from what's happened in the past.

"He's saying all the right things now. But T.O. said it himself: ‘actions speak louder than words.' "

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