The Terrell Owens circus rolled into town Saturday -- the marquee attraction on the opening day of Dallas Cowboys training camp -- and it wasn’t just the controversial All-Pro receiver who drew a crowd. His mom signed autographs as she roamed the VIP area. His agent did the same as he mingled with the fans. Even his publicist posed for the occasional picture.
Thousands of spectators chanted “T-O! T-O!,” erupted in cheers every time he touched the ball, and waved signs welcoming him to the Cowboys from the dark side (a.k.a. Philadelphia).
If there was anything bland about the affair, it was the comments of Owens, whose watered-down remarks to reporters after practice showed he’s determined to be a team player, at least for the moment. That’s in keeping with his history with San Francisco and Philadelphia; he was the world’s most agreeable teammate in the first year before things turned sour in both places.
“I just try to come out here and be attentive, try to help the guys out on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I just try to come out here and compete.”
And compete he did, especially on a long pass from backup Tony Romo during an 11-on-11 drill. Owens beat cornerback Aaron Glenn deep, glided across the goal line for a touchdown, and flapped his arms to further stir an already delirious crowd of 5,500, a record attendance for the Cowboys in Oxnard. Kicker Mike Vanderjagt got into the act too, hopping down the sideline and coaxing even more cheers.
Watching from an area reserved for players’ families and Cowboys sponsors was Owens’ personal cheering section, which included his mother, Marilyn, his sister, Sharmaine, and his 6-year-old son, Terique.
“We gave him a holler a few minutes ago and waved at him and he had a big old smile on his face,” said his mother, wearing a bracelet reading “Terrell Owens -- Destination: Miami,” site of Super Bowl XLI. “I know the main thing for him is just having us here, giving him support, and just getting him ready for the season ... “
She was interrupted by a woman shrieking, “Get! Your! Popcorn! Ready!” which became a mantra of Cowboys fans after Owens, in his introductory news conference, implored fans to “get your popcorn ready, because it’s going to be a show.”
He wasn’t as colorful Saturday. Asked to describe his touchdown catch in the morning session, Owens -- a player who once autographed a ball in the end zone after scoring in a “Monday Night Football” game -- shrugged and said: “It was a touchdown ... nothing I haven’t done before.”
Owens has grown to accept that his every move will be scrutinized. The steam is still rising from his self-titled book, “T.O.,” in which he’s sharply critical of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, among others.
Just as many people predicted a blow-up between Jerry Jones, the hands-on owner of the Cowboys, and combustible Coach Bill Parcells -- which hasn’t yet happened -- some people are anticipating a similar type of showdown between Parcells and Owens.
“Not at all,” Owens said, smiling. “I think everybody’s speculating, they’re kind of waiting for that to happen. So you guys keep waiting.”
Parcells bristled Saturday at the suggestion the Cowboys might not have done their homework in fully assessing Owens’ character before they signed him.
“I’ve known this kid since he was at Chattanooga,” Parcells said, referring to Owens’ college days. “I sent Charlie Weis down there to work him out when he was at Chattanooga. I’ve been watching the guy. I get it.
“I know people that know him. One of my ex-players was his position coach at Philadelphia -- one of my ex-players. Don’t you think I might have talked to him?”
Parcells insisted that he’s not haunted by any potential effect Owens’ signing might have on team chemistry. In fact, he said, he’s almost too busy to think of it at all.
“Fellas, you don’t get it,” Parcells said, addressing reporters after practice. “You’re the only ones talking about this guy here. You’re the only ones. You guys right here. That’s it. Nobody else. We’re just coaching the team.”
Parcells acknowledged, however, that he had experienced some of this round-the-clock interest in a player when he was coaching linebacker Lawrence Taylor with the New York Giants. Taylor had his share of controversies and brushes with the law during and after his brilliant career.
But there was a difference in the Taylor-Parcells dynamic.
“I had so much history with Lawrence,” Parcells said. “I was an assistant coach with Lawrence when he first came into the league. I was his first coach in pro football. Our relationship ... we were in a room eight hours a day together for the first couple of years. He’s sitting right next to you. You get to know the kid.”
Now, Parcells is only starting to get to know Owens, and that process is under the microscope. When the two spoke briefly on the sideline during the morning session, virtually everyone at training camp took notice.
Owens later described it as a typical coach-player conversation.
“We’re trying to integrate him in, get him into the system, know what he does, see what he feels comfortable with, how we can make him an asset,” Parcells said. “I’m not worried about anything other than that.”