Doesn't ESPN See The Difference?

IRVING, Texas -- We kick around ESPN pretty good on these internets, usually less effectively than David once slingshot Goliath.

But in the case of the network's Monday night NFL studio coverage exactly a week ago of Terrell Owens' four-TD game, ESPN deserves some credit for, at least, having the chest hair to juxtapose T.O.'s post-game comments with the studio presence of the man who once kept "The Player'' down, Bill Parcells.

Chris Berman & Co. praised Dallas for its lofty record before leading into Owens' remarks from the podium after last Sunday's 28-23 win over Washington. Owens, who caught four TDs in the game (and with another on Thursday is on pace to have one the greatest years for the receiver EVER) – noted that one difference between The Original 81 circa 2006 and The Original 81 circa 2007 is "the coach'' who puts him in better positions from which to strike.

And then the Owens tape ended. Back to the studio. And some uncomfortable silence before the panel of Berman, Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson chuckled just a bit.

Of course, they chuckled because the offending unnamed coach from '06 was sitting right next to them, in all his yellow-hair-dye glory.

"I can't remember back that far,'' Parcells finally deadpanned.

Moments later, the ex-Cowboys coach – the guy who without doubt did not get as much out of the gifted Owens as he could have, maybe because he treated him with such this-town-ain't-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us distain – detailed reasons for his former team's Tuna aftertaste.

The offensive line. The kicker. The punter. The quarterback's mobility. The tight end, and yeah, the receivers. InfalliBill mentioned it all.

In summary, Parcells said, "The team has matured. It's a better team that what it was.''

Now, Parcells gave some credit to Owens – who, to objective observers of the NFL is an MVP candidate – but he did so while wearing a look at his face that suggested that Berman had just passed some nasty gas. I mean, the deadpan joke aside, Bill couldn't have look more uncomfortable had somebody told him that one of his million-dollar paychecks had bounced.

Really, the argument that "the team has matured'' serves as a handy excuse for its failure under Parcells, right? Hey, Bill is essentially saying, the reason we collapsed last year wasn't MY fault. THEY were "immature.''

Fortunately for InfalliBill, his new "objective'' teammates jumped to his defense – a defensive gameplan better than anything Parcells ever orchestrated in Dallas.

First came Keyshawn, himself a former Cowboy, a long-time Parcells Guy who was shipped out of Valley Ranch to make room for T.O. Objectivity, anyone?

"He's no different to me (than he's ever been),'' said Keyshawn. "He's the same player to me.''

Johnson's point: Don't make a big deal out of last year's allegedly suicidal Terrell and this year's top-of-the-world Terrell. Same guy.

Keyshawn tried to back up his argument with fuzzy math: He implied that Parcells threw the ball plenty to T.O. last year but that Owens screwed Bill by dropping so many. Johnson said he had the "fourth-most passes thrown to him last year,'' 153. Then Keyshawn said he "led the league in drops'' with "23 or 25.''

Wow. That's 153 minus 23. Almost makes it sound like T.O. had 120 catches, that it was a monster year, that Parcells used him wisely. The 153 doesn't account for incompletions. And the "same guy'' argument doesn't account for the fact that Owens reacted unhappily to Parcells' bullying style, and that the coach thought it was the player's responsibility to make all the adjustments, and certainly not the other way around.

Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett are, obviously, a bit more flexible. The obviously don't care who wants to "play sheriff.'' And aren't the results inarguable? "I'm just playing out of my mind right now'' said T.O., who now has 129 career touchdowns (more than immortal names Jim Brown and Walter Payton), is sixth on the all-time TD list, is tied with Marvin Harrison for third on the all-time TD catch list, is only three behind No. 2 guy Cris Carter, and did I mention Owens deserves some MVP votes?

Next came Jackson, the former Broncos star who generally does a terrific job juggling his responsibilities as a credible reporter with his old-school playing history. Tom can't let go of the thought that T.O. is all about T.O.

"I don't like it,'' said Jackson of Owens' persona. "He just talked for 15 seconds. He used ‘I' or ‘me' seven times. …''

I'm not certain how Owens' reputed selfishness – so evident in past years but such a non-factor this season as teammate after teammate endorses the man – is worthy of being the story here. Wade gets a kick out of him. Garrett enjoys putting him in position to succeed. The young receivers idolize him. Defenders like Terence Newman pay homage to him. And most important of all, the franchise quarterback treats him like a valued weapon, peer and friend.

As I've written in this space many times: The moment Terrell Owens implodes this year, the media should be all over it. And T.O. haters are permitted to say "I told you so.''

But at this moment? How could Jackson or anybody else say "I told you so, T.O.'s selfish ego is a cancer'' after a four-TD-catch game for a 9-1 team? More objectivity, anyone?

In the end, we're left with the words of Bill Parcells himself, who sat on that ESPN studio set and, once he put behind him the deadpanning and the excuse-making and the lame justifications, felt forced to concede.

"I agree with everything he just said,'' Parcells mumbled after the T.O. comments, showing only a hint of sarcasm. "They're using him better. He's playing better. I agree with him.''

Again, the look on Parcells' face suggested that Berman had just forgotten to flush. But the look, the sarcasm, the deadpanning, the excuse-making, the lame-justifying and the Parcells Guy'ing meant nothing. Bill Parcells' reluctant concession said it all.

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