|Dez Bryant should be commended for agreeing to have Cowboys management keep him in line. (US Presswire)|
I'm rooting for Dez Bryant.
And I'm rooting against Terrell Owens.
Maybe the first sentence is naïve, soft, stupid. Maybe the second sentence is calloused, cruel. Maybe together they're hypocritical. That's your call. All I can tell you is, I want Dez Bryant to succeed ... and I want Terrell Owens to fail.
Dez Bryant? I want this guy to make it as an NFL superstar, and I want him to stop getting into trouble, stop embarrassing himself and his team, that team being the Dallas Cowboys at the moment. More to the point, I want him to retire a decade from now as a Cowboy, to be so good and valuable -- and solid, off the field -- that the Cowboys never let him go.
Terrell Owens? I don't want him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that's crazy talk given his career numbers, which are second in NFL receiving history to Jerry Rice. A guy with numbers like that gets into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, and without a debate. Only, I wouldn't vote for Terrell Owens. Not that I have a vote. But if I did ... he's out.
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They are linked here because they are NFL receivers of immense talent and trouble, different kinds of trouble but trouble nonetheless, and within hours this week difficult news broke about both players: Terrell Owens was released by the Seahawks ... and Dez Bryant was given severe disciplinary guidelines by the Cowboys.
Which means, the end is near for Owens -- and it's within sight for Bryant.
Owens might get another shot, but I doubt it. If Marvin Lewis and Pete Carroll are done with you, you're finished. Owens will stay in the news because that's what he does, that's what he craves. He and his agent will drop enough hints, tell enough tales, to make us think he'll play again -- but again, I doubt it.
Bryant is in a different category, but standing on the edge nonetheless. His career, even his life, hang in the balance of a series of bad decisions. He is out of control, and to his credit he knows it. Bryant's adviser -- a bail bondsman, of all things -- said Tuesday that those embarrassing restrictions Bryant now faces weren't the Cowboys' idea.
Think about that for a minute. According to adviser David Wells, Bryant wanted to do this. He asked for help in the form of rules a parent might give to a child in high school: Midnight curfew. No drinking. No strip clubs. No clubs of any sort without security. And someone else will drive Bryant to and from practice and even games -- because otherwise, who knows if he'll get there?
Humiliating, but it sends a message: Dez Bryant needs help -- and Bryant sent that message himself. That was confirmed Tuesday night on a Dallas radio station by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Bryant first started careening out of control in 2009, when the NCAA ruled him ineligible for lying to investigators. At the 2010 NFL Draft he was clearly the best receiver available and probably one of the best players overall, but he slid to the Cowboys with the 24th pick because 20-plus teams didn't believe in him -- and Bryant has justified their lack of faith. In the two years since, he has been detained by police (but not arrested) after an incident at a Miami Beach night club; was kicked out of a mall in Dallas for inappropriate clothes and language; was sued by a New York jeweler for unpaid bills; had his driver's license suspended for unpaid parking tickets; and been charged with domestic violence after an incident with his mother.
Truth is, Bryant's issues began when he was a baby, born to a teen mom who would spend time in jail for selling crack cocaine when Dez was 8. He bounced from home to home. That's a bad childhood, and while it doesn't excuse his mistakes as a man, it puts them into context.
As a kid, Dez Bryant never had a chance. As a man, he has it -- but he has a choice to make. It's a choice spelled out in bold letters and harsh restrictions. Behind Door 1, Dez? Riches beyond belief. Fame. Pro Bowls and receiving records and maybe even a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Behind Door 2? You don't want to look behind Door 2, Dez. Nothing but trouble behind that door.
The thing is, Terrell Owens hasn't been in the sort of trouble that Dez Bryant has found. If Owens has ever been arrested, I don't know about it. He's not a criminal, not a danger. But he is a jerk -- the biggest jerk I've seen in professional sports. Should that keep him out of the Hall of Fame? Probably not, but that's a personal choice. If you had a vote, maybe you'd vote him in. If I had a vote? Not a chance.
My reasons aren't as sophisticated as the persuasive argument made Monday by Clark Judge, that Owens' fantasy production came with a real-world, franchise-killing cost -- although I agree with every word of it. Owens was a blight on every franchise he ever played for, even the Eagles, for whom he starred in the 2005 Super Bowl despite a broken leg ... but whom he also tormented and dragged down. How can one player be so productive yet so harmful? I can't really say, because I've only seen it with one player. With Terrell Owens. But I've seen it everywhere he's gone.
He was a jerk in San Francisco, and a jerk in Philadelphia, and a jerk in Dallas, Buffalo and Cincinnati -- and was starting to become a jerk in Seattle. Every time he put up huge numbers for a team and then was allowed to leave, it was a message: You're a jerk, T.O. We don't like you, T.O. There are consequences, T.O.
Owens never got the message. From six different franchises.
I've never seen anything like Terrell Owens, and I hope to never see it again. And if it were up to me, I'd never see him in the Hall of Fame. Because at the end of the day, we're all human beings with likes and dislikes that will affect our judgment, and in Terrell Owens I see a guy who never heeded the warnings, who never tried to be anything but a selfish jerk.
But in Dez Bryant I see something different -- maybe not someone who deserves any belief, but someone who deserves a little hope.