Who would have thought?

When Terrell Owens came to Dallas nearly two and a half years ago, who would have thought he would be this productive, and this good of a teammate? Truthfully, not many people did.

A lot of changes have occurred in Dallas since Terrell Owens arrived in 2006 following his controversial and unceremonious departure from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Yes, the Cowboys have changed coaches and quarterbacks. All for the better.

They also regained their status as one of the league's top teams.

And Owens is back among the league's top playmakers. Outside of quarterback Tony Romo, he is the team's most important player.

But somewhere along the way the impossible happened. Owens is no longer viewed as a bad guy, and is starting to warm up to the label of team leader and team player.

Not bad for someone who was considered a locker room cancer in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Sure, time heals all wounds.

But in this case it's what Owens has done with that time that allowed the wounds to heal and people to get another perspective.

Certainly his play on the field is paramount. He has always been a hard worker in practice and has always given it his all in games -- something he always had over Randy Moss.

But Owens has shown a compassionate side during his time in Dallas. Consider his tearful defense of Romo following the Cowboys' playoff loss to the Giants.

Or the fact that he was the first one to render aid to an ESPN reporter following a traffic accident in July.

Owens is offended that the latter caught so much attention. That he was considered such a bad guy that it surprises people he would come to aid someone in need.

"There are a lot of things that have changed around here since 2006, go figure," Owens said in reference to the departure of coach Bill Parcells.

"The perception of myself has always been the same. From the media standpoint there are certain things that have happened that make people scratch their head. But I am the same person that I was in 2006. I am the still the same person in since I was coming into the league in a sense being passionate about another human being. I am still that person."

There is no question that Owens has learned from his past mistakes.

He has also matured.

Maybe it was the thought of his football mortality or the fact that he has achieved everything he could on an individual basis. He has Hall of Fame stats. He just needs a title to validate his place among the all-time greats.

"The thing you notice most about him, he talks about team a lot. He wants to win," Romo said. "He understands at this stage of his career, he has done all the things individually he can do. It's no secret that he wants to win a championship. He knows everybody else does, so it hurts him when the team isn't able to win."

But what's also true is that the Cowboys have fostered an environment that has become comfortable and even prosper.

Coach Wade Phillips treats Owens like a man, unlike Parcells, who made it known that Owens was signed by owner Jerry Jones and never welcomed by the coach.

"The whole total environment has changed from the first time I was with the Cowboys, you know what I mean? Owens said. "Management has been the same, but the coaching staff is different, the head coach is different, my position coach is different. Coach Wade's approach is refreshing, and it bodes well for the team. I think everybody's responding well. It's night and day. I can't say enough about Wade."

Jones, who said Owens was never as bad as he was made out to be, has done his part by making money a non issue in the equation. Owens had problems in Philadelphia because he thought he was under paid and unappreciated. That has never been a problem in Dallas. Two years into a three-year, $25 million deal, Jones tore up the contract and gave Owens a four-year, $34 million extension.

No wonder he came to camp faster and stronger than he has ever been.

It helps that Owens took part in the entire offseason program for the first time and is admittedly more comfortable in the second year in the offense run by coordinator Jason Garrett.

But no longer having to carry the baggage of being a bad guy and knowing he is not only welcome but sincerely appreciated for the first time in his career has allowed Owens to be light and fleet as well.

"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," Owens said. "I'm content where I am. I know I'm going to be a Cowboy for life.

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