This move was destined from the moment Jerry Jones, from on high in his owner's box, viewed the most disgraceful act in Texas Stadium history.
Some receiver for the 49ers, the franchise Jones' Cowboys had battled for NFC supremacy, had just caught a touchdown pass and shocked the congregation by sprinting all the way to midfield. There, on the sacred Cowboys star, this No. 81 -- Jones wasn't even sure of his name -- spread his arms wide in a pose that made two statements.
No. 1: You ain't nothin' no more, Cowboys. Now we own you and your house.
And No. 2: Forget Jerry Rice. I have arrived, world.
This was September 2000, and three Cowboys greats who were battered shadows of themselves watched from the home-team sideline. This punk kid obviously had no respect for Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin or Emmitt Smith and their three Super Bowl trophies. But as Terrell Owens reveled in the vicious boos, Jones couldn't help ...
... appreciating this guy's audacity.
Deep down, Jerry Jones knew he would have been capable of pulling the same stunt, if he had been blessed with this kid's talent. Heck, Jones would trade a Super Bowl trophy to be Owens for just one season.
Oh, how Jones wishes he could have been more than an undersized overachiever of an offensive guard on Arkansas' 1964 national championship team.
But that day, as the 49ers embarrassed what was left of Jones' Cowboys, Jones watched Owens return to celebrate on The Star a second time and thought, "You know, I wouldn't mind having that No. 81 on my team."
And now, many signs point to Terrell Owens' calling Texas Stadium home.
Of course, signing Owens ultimately would be a great mistake. This deeply flawed team wrecker would take great pride in proving that the great Bill Parcells wouldn't be able to crack the whip on him any more than tough guy Andy Reid could in Philadelphia. And if you think Owens caused trouble for quarterbacks Jeff Garcia in San Francisco and Donovan McNabb in Philly, wait till he gets through with whiny, thin-skinned Drew Bledsoe.
It wouldn't be long before Owens wondered out loud why his rag-armed, no-backbone quarterback couldn't get him the ball. For Owens, it's always the quarterback's or the coach's fault, in no particular order. Never, ever his.
He's T.O., as in Team Obliterator.
But Jones won't care that Owens has left two playoff teams in ruins. No, for Jones, life isn't worth living unless he's taking risks with rare and unpredictable people. That's why he hired Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer and Bill Parcells. That's why he acquired Charles Haley and Deion Sanders and stuck by Irvin. And that's why he, Jerral Wayne Jones from Little Rock, Ark., often has taken on the National Football League when it came to marketing its most loved and hated franchise. Jones has an incurable jones for associating with controversial stars. If Jones is going to lose, by gawd, he's going to lose spectacularly. To Jones, pro football is -- in the end -- the entertainment business and, if nothing else, his team is going to be damned entertaining.
Beneath his J.R. Ewing exterior lies some chicken-fried Barnum and some guacamole-topped Bailey. Even coached by the great Parcells, Jones' Cowboys have missed the playoffs the last two seasons, and Jerry is getting even worse than impatient. He's getting bored.
He bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 because he was bored with striking oil well after oil well and making too much money to count.
So now he wants to make his Cowboys matter again. He wants controversy and international attention and more interview requests than he can count. He wants the player who defamed the sacred star to wear it on his helmet.
He wants Terrell Eldorado Owens in metallic blue and silver. He wants columnists to write that this will be a disaster. He wants half his fans to say they'll never again cheer for the Cowboys. He wants to be able to get up early every morning and say, "Watch this, world."
He wants to strike up a friendship with him, make him understand that the two of them are kindred spirits. Jones wants to make Owens realize that if he'll just catch touchdown passes and keep his mouth shut, Jones will make sure Owens makes more money and becomes a bigger star than he ever dreamed.
Of course, Owens is incapable of trusting an owner enough to become friends with him and utterly incapable of avoiding problems. No. 81 now has a reputation to live up to: He must rip his owner or coach or quarterback or his "jealous" teammates because that's what his public expects of him.
Owens is as addicted to attention as Jones. But Owens isn't secure enough to earn his spotlight by catching passes and winning. No, Owens needs to feel disrespected for no apparent reason and create phantom feuds. And Jones thinks he can get away with tossing the grenade that is Owens into a Cowboys locker room low on leadership? Lately, the team has lost its strongest personalities -- La'Roi Glover, Dat Nguyen, Dan Campbell and even Keyshawn Johnson. Yes, the Cowboys cut Keyshawn the other day but didn't rule out re-signing him to a more cap-friendly deal. But removing Keyshawn from the payroll and locker room obviously cleared the way for the NFL's other big-bodied, big-mouthed receiving star -- Owens. The only receivers left are Terry Glenn and Patrick Crayton. The Cowboys desperately need Owens. Or think they do. Of course, Parcells has the largest ego in coaching -- unless you want to argue it belongs to his good friends Bob Knight or Tony La Russa. Parcells ultimately will decide he can do what Reid and Steve Mariucci failed to. But if Parcells thinks, "I won two Super Bowls with Lawrence Taylor, so I can win with this guy," he'll be very wrong.
Taylor's drug problems didn't turn him into a disruptive teammate. He didn't bad-mouth quarterback Phil Simms or say, "My name isn't Lawrence Parcells. I'm not his son, and I don't have to do what he says." That's what Owens said about Reid. And make no mistake, no matter how good Owens is, he'll never have the impact Taylor had on games. Owens always will be more trouble than he's worth.
But when Jones thinks of Owens, he'll think of Haley and Sanders -- and he'll think wrong. Haley became unmanageable in San Francisco because he thought he was terribly underpaid. Once Jones traded for him and took care of him financially, Haley became a good teammate and the pass-rushing catalyst for three Super Bowl champs. Beautiful move, Jerry. After Deion helped the 49ers win a Super Bowl, Jones gave him what, in 1995, was an absurdly huge bonus, $12.999 million. Money well spent, Jerry. Deion gladly helped Dallas win the next Super Bowl. But Owens isn't interested in winning, just in making more money than any receiver ever and in being an uncontrollable celebrity.
Conventional wisdom suggests Jones should try to talk Owens into accepting a prove-yourself, incentive-laden deal. But those are just the kind of shackles that would have Owens protesting by Week 3 or 4. No, if you're going to sign him, you had better pay him. And one NFL source says Jones boasted late last season that he wouldn't blink at giving Owens $10 million if he had the chance. He'll need to give him at least that much after the Washington Redskins gave Antwaan Randle El an $11.6 million bonus to be a No. 3 receiver.
But with the rival Redskins loading up at receiver -- with Randle El and Brandon Lloyd -- Jones has to retaliate. And how better to do that than by signing the guy the rival Eagles couldn't handle? Jones can even ask his good friend Irvin to mentor his good friend Owens. Oh, the publicity this will generate.
Jerry Jones and Terrell Owens, together at Texas Stadium. It will be great, for a while.
Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.