Bob Benz: The paradox of pulling for T.O.

Bob Benz

I’ve needed a week to digest the most stunning news out of the football world since the almost-perfect Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.

But this one hit much closer to home for someone who has closely followed – and on a handful of occasions, covered – the Buffalo Bills over the past three decades.

Seriously, after all this time, it still barely registers as reality: Terrell Owens signed with the Buffalo Bills?

I know, I know. At this point, it’s hardly breaking news, but circumstance did not allow me to unleash my shock, confusion and conflicting thoughts on the subject matter in print when the story broke last weekend.

It was probably for the better, since the news blindsided me to the point where I truly didn’t know how to feel about my favorite team bringing in my least-favorite player.

If I was a Yankees fan, I’d probably be far better equipped to deal with such a paradox.

But the Bills don’t hoard two to three marquee free agents per offseason, let alone one – particularly of T.O.’s magnetic ilk – every ... well, ever.

Some may recall, a couple of weeks ago, I not-so deftly observed the Bills hadn’t yet made a big splash in free agency because they were gun shy as a result of some recent free-agent duds.

So much for that. The Bills signing T.O. wasn’t merely a splash, but more like a Jason Peters cannon-ball into a kiddie pool.

If you’re a Bills’ fan, whether you love Owens or not – and there’s little middle ground for the polarizing wide receiver, it’s been somewhat refreshing to see the team have relevance again nationally, even if at the expense of your typical T.Overkill.

But for presumably many Bills observers like myself, who like to think of ourselves as rational-thinking, level-headed football fans who can see through T.O.’s usual shenanigans, there’s inner conflict when your team actually acquires such a talented, yet combustible player.

The guy still can play at an elite level as his three straight 1,000-yard-plus, double-digit touchdown seasons would attest. The guy is still a head-case as the willingness of the 49ers, Eagles and Cowboys to cut ties with such a Hall of Fame talent while still in his prime would suggest.

The guy helps teams score points and win games as his 38 touchdowns and Dallas’ 31-13 record over the past three seasons would attest. However, the guy doesn’t help his playoff-caliber teams win enough games or at least, the important ones. The underachieving Cowboys’ absence from the postseason in 2008 and Owens’ 1-5 record in his last six playoff games can attest to that.

Then again, Buffalo’s playoff record during the span of time that Owens went 1-5 is 0-0. The Bills haven’t been to the postseason since losing the Music City Miracle game in January 2000.

Owens has been sometimes referred to as a lockerroom cancer, despite the fact he helps his teams win football games. The Bills lockerroom has been described as a serene place, which has gotten them three straight 7-9 seasons.

A day after Owens was released by the Cowboys, agent Drew Rosenhaus claimed “several teams” were interested in signing T.O. In a way, the manner which Rosenhaus tried to shape the perception on the market for Owens was reminiscent of what he did for another client whose stock was low. Remember how Willis McGahee went from being considered a top-five lock in the 2003 NFL Draft to a marginal first-rounder after tearing three ligaments in his knee only three months before the draft. Just as McGahee’s stock continued to plummet as teams passed on the former University of Miami star, Rosenhaus pulled out the cell phone and called McGahee, giving off the impression to a national TV audience that the running back was generating interest. Of course, the Bills bit and drafted McGahee 23rd and much of the rest is history Buffalo fans would rather forget.

It seems likely that very few – if any – playoff teams or contenders were interested in Owens, just because of all the baggage. The fact that such a high-maintenance player like T.O. ended up in such a low-profile place like Buffalo suggests the Bills offered the most guaranteed money – by a long shot.

Perhaps the market wasn’t as demanding as the Bills perceived and they could have gotten T.O. at a slightly lesser cost. Maybe, they once again fell for Rosenhaus’ bluff. Not that it matters all that much considering the best part of the deal is the fact it’s for only one season.

One season that probably wasn’t going to produce fruitful results without a quality receiver to play opposite Lee Evans. That’s not to say that T.O. will help the Bills deliver better results.

Really, though, it’s just one year, so what’s the harm? While the Bills can’t be counted among the NFL’s very weakest teams, their run of nine straight seasons without a playoff berth proves they’re one of the league’s most stagnant franchises. Owens – a dynamic talent, even if a potentially toxic personality – could be the shot in the arm Buffalo needs to end its current playoff drought.

Ten days ago, I was saddened the Cowboys released T.O. because I felt they’d be worse off with him. Today, I’m at peace with the Bills signing Owens because I just can’t fathom they’d be any better without him.

Bob Benz, assistant sports editor for The Corning Leader, can be reached by e-mail at rbenz@the-leader.com.