DANA POINT, Calif. -- For some reason I didn't think to check my watch. But I'd say it was about 4-ish, 7 Eastern. This was last Monday, the second day of the third annual Athletes First Classic benefiting the Orangewood PALS charity. We were on the No. 7 tee at Monarch Beach Golf Links when Drew Bledsoe's BlackBerry began buzzing.
Bledsoe had an incoming call from an unfamiliar number, originating from area code 678. He turned to his longtime agent, Athletes First's David Dunn, and asked where 678 was. Dunn told him Atlanta. "Who's calling me from Atlanta?" Bledsoe asked.
Bledsoe touched green and retreated to a quiet area behind the tee. When he returned to his cart, before ending the conversation, the last thing he told the caller was, "Thanks for calling, man. … This the best number to reach you?… Let's light this thing on fire."
"That was T.O.," Bledsoe told the waiting group.
We're all waiting. Waiting for his first trip to the big blue star at midfield in Texas Stadium. And waiting for his first sideline outburst. And the point when the Dallas Cowboys, like the 49ers and Eagles before them, say enough is enough. Terrell Owens, signed by the Cowboys last weekend to a three-year contract worth up to $25 million, while arguably the best wide receiver in football, too often during his 10-year career has been as disruptive as he has been dominant.
And yet for some reason, the Cowboys believe -- despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and a unique body of work that, along with 101 touchdown catches and more than 10,000 receiving yards, includes two divided locker rooms and franchises -- that somehow it'll be different this time. That Owens will be different. That Bledsoe and Bill Parcells will be spared the wrath that Jeff Garcia, Steve Mariucci, Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid were not.
And I agree.
Hear me out.
First, Owens got paid. He received a record deal, about which he flows on his Web site. All Owens has to do is perform the way he can and not act out enough to get kicked off the team and he should see every dime.
No one expects Owens to change, but he has the ultimate incentive to behave. "The guy's been through some stuff," Bledsoe said. "I don't think he wants to sit down for half the year anymore."
Second, Parcells and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have experience when it comes to dealing with what we'll call high-maintenance players, a fact about which Jones elaborated extensively during the news conference Saturday to announce the Owens signing. The Cowboys still will give Owens the leeway to be himself. (By the way, we've all heard the expression about too many egos in one room, but I can't imagine a gathering of larger egos than the one we saw Saturday, with Jones, Owens and the player's omnipresent agent, Drew Rosenhaus, taking center stage.)
"The thing about playing for Bill is he makes everything so simple. It's just cut-and-dried," Bledsoe said. "I'm sure he's already had conversations with T.O. about this is what I expect, this is how we're going to do things. Look at the guys who have played for Bill, he's not asking anybody to mold themselves into a certain kind of personality. The thing that Bill always wants is players that are consistent, he knows what he's going to get out of them week in and week out. If you give him that, you can have your personality."
Third, even with Terry Glenn on the other side and Jason Witten over the middle, Owens will get his catches. Though Bledsoe owns a lower career completion percentage (57.3) than either Garcia (60.9) or McNabb (58.4), he's the best pure passer of the three. He'll hit Owens accurately, on time and in the right spot.
So there's a good chance we won't see as much of Owens's histrionics in Dallas. Not that it would bother Bledsoe much anyway.
"I'm just going to establish right from the start: Hey, I don't need all the noise and all that stuff. You come to me and give me honest information and I'm going to get you the ball," Bledsoe said. "Give me something to use for the next play. I'll make sure he knows that I'm always focused on the next play and not the last play. The noise isn't going to help us on the next play.
"I'm going to give him his respect and listen to what he has to say. But he's going to know going in that all the noise is not going to get him the ball more. What's going to get him the ball more is honest information. That's all I need."
Bledsoe has plenty of experience, certainly more than McNabb before Owens arrived in Philadelphia, dealing with demanding diva receivers (which has become a bit of a redundant term). Consider Glenn, who was Bledsoe's teammate with the New England Patriots for years before they reunited in Dallas. In Buffalo, Bledsoe had to deal with Eric Moulds. Most recently Keyshawn Johnson, with whom, Bledsoe says, he had a better relationship than their well-publicized sideline altercation last season -- "that was literally over in about 30 seconds," Bledsoe said -- might have led most people (including yours truly) to believe.
"You can talk to the guys I've played with, if they were open and I didn't see them for some reason, I'm honest with them," Bledsoe said. "Sorry man, I didn't see you. I'll get you the next time. I'm honest about it and if they're honest with me, we never had a problem.
"There may be an episode here or there that comes up, but I just don't see [Owens' presence] being a distraction the way it was in the past. Maybe that's a naïve way to approach it."
The Cowboys didn't consult Bledsoe before signing Owens, but "I would have signed off on it in a heartbeat," he said.
"Listen man. I'm going into Year 14. I want to win. This is a guy that's going to help us win right now."
Bledsoe was being sincere, not politically correct. If you're curious about his immediate reaction to the news that the Cowboys had added Owens, ask his buddy Damon Huard, who was with him when Bledsoe got the word and who called his brother, Brock, and told him how psyched Bledsoe was.
Bledsoe is willing to give T.O. the benefit of the doubt because he isn't taking the word of ESPN or Sports Illustrated or sports talk radio. He isn't judging Owens on what he saw or heard from him or read about him. Instead, he's taking the word of buddies who have played with Owens, who've seen his legendary work ethic, the way he approaches practice, how he and the guys play cards in the locker room. Of course, the numbers speak for themselves.
When Bledsoe and Owens spoke Monday, it was mostly small talk, according to the quarterback. Bledsoe said he could hear in Owens' voice how excited he was and told him the feeling was mutual. Owens shared his upcoming schedule and told Bledsoe when he would be in Dallas so that they could connect. They exchanged numbers. He told Bledsoe that he was looking forward to playing with a proven pocket passer (one who is 3,557 yards from passing Fran Tarkenton for fifth place all time). The call was a pleasant surprise to Bledsoe, who said he'd planned to touch base with T.O. either later that night or Tuesday.
"Is there a part of it that's risky? Yeah," Bledsoe acknowledged. "The guy acts up, he can cause problems, particularly with all the attention that's paid to him. But it is it a risk worth taking? I think it definitely is. The reward is well worth the risk.
"I may be going into it a little bit naïve. I just think it's going to be a great thing for everybody involved."
Initially I didn't think so. I doubted how well Owens and Bledsoe would mesh. I've since been convinced otherwise. Then again, maybe I'm like Bledsoe. Maybe I'm being naïve.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Contact him here.