It was the article that turned the Cowboys' season upside down, at least in terms of media coverage. It's the article that has been taken as gospel by the numerous fans who believe Owens was a problem and did everything alleged by his critics during his Dallas stint. It's truly all they have. Some who talk about these things they think Owens said/did in Dallas don't even realize the simple fact that it all starts and ends with this one article. But it's all right here.
And if they were able to look at it critically, they wouldn't be so quick to believe a word of it. In fact, I don't see how anyone could look at this article as "admissible" in the chain of evidence against Owens. I've decided it's time I break this article down and expose it for what it is, even if it comes years too late.
According to multiple sources within the Dallas Cowboys, there is an emerging internal conflict involving three of the team's highest-profile stars.
In the very beginning, we are promised "multiple sources." Multiple, of course, simply means "two or more." It could be two, it could be 200. But what you will soon notice is we are never provided multiple sources WITHIN the Dallas Cowboys in this article. In fact, this article is carefully worded to AVOID implying there is more than one player source (or member of the Cowboys' organization in general, be it the coaching staff or front office personnel) in the entire piece.
I'm going to explain how Werder was able to get away with using the expression, "multiple sources" within the Cowboys, among other things.
As the preseason Super Bowl favorites struggle in the final month of the season to simply make the playoffs, wide receiver Terrell Owens has expressed resentment toward Tony Romo, apparently jealous of the quarterback's relationship with tight end Jason Witten.
Right off the bat: "Preseason Super Bowl favorites;" subjective bias. SOME people picked them to win the Super Bowl, yes. SOME. But...WHO? It isn't stated here. In fact, it is just asserted that the Cowboys were THE preseason Super Bowl favorites, which is an unsubstantiated generalization. This alone should be a clue to anyone reading that this isn't an objective piece.
Owens thinks Romo and Witten -- close friends and road roommates who came to Dallas in the same offseason -- hold private meetings and create plays without including Owens, according to a source who speaks regularly with Owens' teammates. Owens believes these discussions have worked to his detriment and Romo seeks to deliver the ball to Witten regardless of whether Owens is open.
Our first source this information is attributed to is "a source who speaks regularly with Owens's teammates." We can draw a few reasonable conclusions from this wording:
1. The source referred to here was not a player. Had it been a player, the author would have stated it as such. Don't you think Ed Werder would have loved to cite "a PLAYER" here if it had been a player? That's juicy. That's just what he was looking for. But he didn't do it.
2. The source is not a member of the Cowboys, or the author would have said so. Again, sources from within the organization are called "sources from within the organization." It adds to the credibility, and clearly, Werder wanted the public to take this seriously.
No, Werder was not able to attribute this critical piece of information to a player, coach, or member of the Cowboys' front office because it didn't come from one of them. Instead, it came from someone who "spoke regularly with Owens's teammates."
Let's think for a bit...who speaks regularly with Owens's teammates?
Aha! The media.
The media ...including one Mr. Ed Werder, spoke regularly with Owens's teammates. Of course, when it involved Werder, the conversations were mostly one-sided, but Werder could have attributed this quote to himself and not technically have been lying. The only requirement is he is accurately reflecting his own feelings on the matter.
Of course, this didn't necessarily have to come from Werder. It could have come from someone else in the media, such as Matt Mosley, a "contributing author" for this piece, as it states at the end. It could have also been a matter of Werder approaching an "analyst" such as Emmitt Smith at ESPN headquarters and asking him for his take on the situation. Or perhaps Babe Laufenberg, now a Dallas radio personality with a frightening hatred of Owens. The number of analysts who lambaste Owens in the press is endless.
But I'm going to assume it was Werder citing himself in this section. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't. Just one.
"I don't know anything about that," Wade Phillips said when asked about a possible rift at his news conference on Thursday.
Was Phillips asked about a rift between Owens and Romo/Witten, or just a general question about a rift with the team as they were losing? How clear were these questions? This article never specifies Phillips was asked about any PARTICULAR "rift."
"We've thrown for a lot of yards with a lot of players. One receiver is pretty close to 1,000 yards. ... There's no favoritism there, we are going to the guy that is going to be open."
Was this in response to the same question, or was it in response to a question brought up later? We all know people aren't quoted word-for-word in chronological order in articles such as these...which allows for creative spins.
In a story that was first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Clarence Hill, Cowboys wide receivers Owens, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton requested and were granted a meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to express their concern Romo was relying too heavily on Witten.
And in another article, ESPN recants this first report, stating it was Garrett who called individual meetings with each of the receivers, as opposed to the three receivers requesting and being granted a meeting with Garrett. Already, we have false information in the "Werder Article Heard 'Round the World."
Owens declined to discuss the situation on Thursday outside the Cowboys' locker room. As he walked toward the players' lounge at Valley Ranch, ESPN asked Owens if he would answer questions and he said, "Nope.''
Did Owens decline to discuss "the situation," or did he decline to speak to ESPN reporters (namely one Ed Werder, whom he had been refusing to answer questions from for weeks, simply stating "next question") in general? Because, ya know...it sure sounds like the latter, to me. Owens isn't one to not answer questions surrounding a controversy. In fact, when made aware of what had been reported, Owens spent an eternity answering questions on this very matter.
But later Thursday, Owens told The Dallas Morning News: "I'm not jealous of Witten. I'm not jealous of nobody. I can take the approach that I got paid, so screw everything, but that's not me.
Oh, so you mean once Owens learned what was being reported, he started answering questions? Wow, amazing.
Also shocking to see a quote taken out of context. By "out of context," I mean we have no idea what question he was responding to in this excerpt. I could venture a guess, though. Something along the lines of, "Reports are you're being more vocal about your disappointment in the offense" after having just been made aware of what was being reported surrounding Owens/Witten...you know, something like that?
"I just want to win. I'm not trying to create a war of words with anybody. I thought we had a productive meeting, and I just talked to Jason about Tony reading the whole play because other people are open besides Witten."
So what we have here, essentially, is a private discussion between a receiver and an offensive coordinator about a quarterback's progressions. This private discussion between a coach and a player leaks to the public...and we are supposed to be outraged at the player for saying something in private about the offense to the offensive coordinator. That's what this essentially amounts to.
Of course, we all know players never talk to their coaches about the system or the performance of a given player (namely the quarterback) who affects the entire unit. Owens was, like, totally out of line here.
Witten appeared Thursday afternoon on ESPNRadio 1050 in New York.
"Tony and I have been friends for a long time, way before either one of us were playing that much," Witten said. "I don't think we're drawing up many plays together to be completely honest, but I don't think Terrell feels that way. I think he knows he's a play-maker, and we try to go to him, and we have other guys we try to get the ball, too."
Not too significant. This is a generic, politically correct response.
Linebacker Bradie James acknowledged to ESPN that his status as one of the team captains has caused him to play a peacemaker role between Romo and Owens.
"Whenever the fire gets blazing, I know,'' James said. "Sometimes, I don't want to step on anybody's toes, but we all talk.
"It just is what it is ... It's just two different guys, two different personalities and they know what's at stake. They know that everybody needs them. And there's no dislike. It's just sometimes, not everybody is going to see eye to eye. That's what makes a football team.''
Mysteriously, no names are ever mentioned in James's quote, only in the introductory sentence. A recurring theme in this article. But we'll just take it at face value.
Note how James says, "there's no dislike." That doesn't square with what Werder is reporting.
A current Cowboys player compared Owens' behavior to that which led to problems with his former quarterbacks, Jeff Garcia in San Francisco and Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. Those failed relationships and problems with the head coaches and other teammates led to Owens' exile from those teams and made him available to Dallas owner Jerry Jones in 2006.
"He's insecure about it,'' the player said of Owens. "The thing that bothers me more than anything about this problem is that it's always something with him -- San Fran, Philly and here, always something. And he brings other people into it. You know, he talks to Sam Hurd and Roy Williams, who just got here and doesn't really know these guys. T.O. talks to him and so now he probably thinks Witten politics with Tony for the ball.
And here we have our first and only "player source." You'll see why I say "only" in the coming paragraphs.
First of all, this player somehow claims to know what happened in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Not one member of the Cowboys at the time was Owens's teammate at both stops. Only one player, Kye Kosier, had ever been Owens's teammate elsewhere (San Francisco).
So what does that say about this player?
To me, it says he never liked Owens to begin with...never gave him a chance. This player believed what he'd heard in the press and didn't want him on the team before the Cowboys signed him.
So Werder found this guy and stretched the stuff this player told him with creative diction.
"That's so far from the truth. You think Tony is throwing to him because that's his buddy? His best buddy is Bobby Carpenter, and that's not helping him too much. It's crazy to think that, and I hate that he acts that way.''
This player tells us who Romo's "best fwend" is. Who does that? And on what authority?
Witten leads the Cowboys with 64 receptions to 55 for Owens, who has a team-high 848 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. According to one of the sources, Owens cannot fathom how Romo and Garrett justify the tight end having more catches. Owens, after all, ranks among the most accomplished receivers in NFL history.
The author insists, based on "one of his sources," Owens "cannot fathom" how Romo and Garrett justify the tight end having more catches. On what grounds? How does the source know how Owens feels?
And which source is this? The player or the person "who speaks regularly with Owens's teammates?" Werder didn't specificy it was the player here, so I am left to believe it is likely the one who "speaks regularly with Owens's teammates." So a member of the mass media is telling Werder how Owens feels, and Werder is taking what he says seriously and putting it down, as though it came straight from the mouth of Mr. Owens himself. Amazing, isn't it?
And it begs the question...Witten caught more passes than Owens in 2007 (96 to 81). Why wouldn't Owens be able to "fathom" this? All was fine in 2007, when the team was winning. There weren't any reports about this back then. But in 2008, he all of a sudden "can't fathom it?"
What we have here is pure speculation about Owens's feelings. And no matter what Owens says about what he REALLY thinks, he can't prove it wrong. So Werder has as much leeway as he wants.
There has so far been no known confrontation between Romo and Owens, who have combined for 33 touchdowns since 2006, the most of any quarterback-receiver tandem in the NFL during that time. Romo has always been careful to make certain Owens felt appreciated so that he would compete hard and not cause the kind of upheaval he did with his previous teams.
All of this and "there has been no known confrontation between Romo and Owens?" Does this strike anyone as odd? Isn't this sort of an admission from Werder that he's reporting "conflict" before it even happens?
Also notice the statement regarding Romo's motives. "Romo has always been careful to make certain Owens felt appreciated so that he would compete hard and not cause the kind of upheavel he did with his previous teams." Unless Romo is serving as an anonymous source, the author is reporting on Romo's feelings (much like he did Owens's) without the only source who really matters on that issue -- Romo himself.
But one teammate suggested Romo is frustrated enough that he might initiate a different approach, although not the confrontational kind that some believe might solve the problem.
And now we get to one of the crucial elements I was talking about earlier; deceptive language.
ONE teammate. He didn't say "another." He didn't say, "a second." He began with "one teammate"...without any linguistic indication that it is a different teammate from the one he had already quoted.
In fact, given Werder's obvious desire to create a shocking piece, we can only assume it's the same source, or Werder would have specified otherwise.
"To be completely honest, I just think Tony is over it, not like, 'Screw it.' But I think Tony is over the mind games,'' the player said. "It would help if Tony would stand up to him, but he would never do it. He does a great job of ignoring it and not letting it affect him, and that's why it has worked as good as it has. It's just hard. I think right now everybody is to the point where, 'We're going to need him, so let's not piss him off.'"
And here we have said player talking about Romo's feelings. This guy sure is an expert on what other people think.
But Owens seems to be finding it increasingly difficult to conceal his irritation. Last week in Pittsburgh, on the first possession of the Cowboys' most important game of the season, a team source who reviewed the game tape said Romo threw an interception when Owens mysteriously failed to complete his route. Troy Polamalu intercepted the ball at the place where Romo expected Owens to be. Later in the half, Romo underthrew a pass for Owens that was intercepted by Ike Taylor and Owens gestured openly in Romo's direction as he walked toward the sideline that the ball should have been thrown further upfield.
"A team source who reviewed the game tape" said this. The problem is, the "team source" is almost certainly a member of the media who got hold of some film (much like Ron Jaworski does film breakdown for ESPN) and did his own biased interpretation of events. Again, there has been no indication this is a different source from the one already cited. But who cares if it is? This is a member of the media who is looking to bash Owens. My money is on Babe Laufenberg, since he does his own pitiful attempts at "film breakdown" on his local television show.
What's more, "mysteriously failed to complete his route." Who said the word, "mysteriously?" Was that the source, or was that Werder?
I could pick apart this article all day. The fact that I can even ask all these questions is telling in itself. Why is this ARTICLE so mysterious?
But what upset Owens' teammates most of all was his response to the interception Romo threw on a pass intended for Witten that Deshea Townsend returned for the game-winning touchdown in a 20-13 defeat. Both the quarterback and tight end publicly accepted blame for the Cowboys' season-high fifth turnover. In contrast, Owens said the offense stunk, that the team can't win with turnovers like those and then suggested his defender was playing off in single coverage and that he was open but Romo decided to throw elsewhere on the fatal play.
"But what upset Owens's teammates most of all." Again, according to who? Werder has but one actual source from the Dallas Cowboys. Either Werder is using this player to generalize the feelings of the whole, or he's going off the report of his one player source, who insists he knows how everyone else feels, based on the preceding quotes. Or, he's just basing it on what a media source is telling him.
And how many teammates did it upset? He said it upset "his teammates," which essentially implies it upset ALL of them. But does anyone, even the staunchest Owens critic, really believe that? Was Marion Barber, a close friend of Owens's, upset? How about Sam Hurd? Or Roy Williams?
So how many teammates did it upset? Four? 14? 44? One...meaning the one player source Werder actually has?
On the sideline, Owens was seen yelling at a Cowboys assistant coach. In his news conference after the game, Owens implied that Romo's decision to throw to Witten was the wrong one, saying, "It's his job to go out there and assess what the defense is, and he made that decision.''
Is that what he was "implying," or was that in response to a question being asked of Owens as to why Romo MADE that decision? You know, in other words, "you'd have to ask him. That's his job."
Note here the snarky implication that it would be WRONG to say Romo's decision was the wrong one. The author refers to it as "throwing to Witten." Never mind the fact that of the two throws INTENDED for Witten late in the game, one was intercepted and returned for a touchdown on the next-to-last drive, and then the other was incomplete on 4th down, ending the game, on the Cowboys' final drive.
So yeah, I'd say those throws were the "wrong decision," wouldn't you?
That incensed some Cowboys, one of whom said, "If you only knew all that guy does. It's gonna go down with him before it's all over with. He is unbelievable. Tough loss and he does that?''
Again with the creative diction to avoid revealing he only has one source. It incensed SOME Cowboys ("one" is "some"). "One of whom." Not, "another." Not, "a second." When referring to a source who is within the Cowboys, every single source is cited in its singular form.
Until then, Cowboys insiders considered Owens' most damaging behavior the interview he did with former Dallas cornerback Deion Sanders on the NFL Network in which he suggested the offensive system under Garrett was responsible for his worst statistical season since his rookie year with the 49ers. Owens also hinted that Romo and the other Dallas quarterbacks who played when the starter was injured were not making getting him the ball a high enough priority. "I can't throw it and catch it,'' Owens said.
Cowboys insiders? Who are these? You mean, members of the mass media?
Because, that's what it means.
As I've stated in other parts of the website, "I can't throw it and catch it" was made in reference to how much control he had over his statistical output. He can't throw it to himself. Owens must have said this more than 100 times throughout his career. But people interpret it the way they want to interpret it. It's literally true and says nothing of who is throwing him the ball, but those who have made up their minds about Owens will insist he's some sort of passive-aggressive guy who IMPLIES things...as if that would serve any purpose at all when he is the one who pays the price every single time.
Consider the following example:
Jerry Rice could get 200 balls thrown his way in a season as opposed to Owens getting 100. A reporter could then ask Owens, "Rice had 122 receptions that year for 1848 yards. This year, you only finished with 81 receptions for 1355 yards. Why are Rice's numbers so much better than yours?"
Owens can respond in one of three general ways.
1. "It's all my fault! I suck! I should have caught more balls than were even thrown my way if I'm even close to Jerry! But I'm not. I don't think of myself as a great receiver, I'm just trying the best I can." A lie...and a ridiculous one, at that.
2. "It's the quarterback's fault. He sucks." If he wanted to actually say this, he could. Why doesn't he? According to many, he doesn't want to get in trouble, so being the sneaky demon he is, he "implies things." And yet if he's SO clever and cunning as to do this, and repeatedly gets burned by it...why hasn't he stopped these intentional "implications?" Clearly, if he's so devious, he would have realized by now this doesn't work...right?
3. "For a number of reasons, I didn't get as many balls thrown my way. My numbers could be a lot better and much closer to Jerry's if I'd had more targets, but for whatever reason, that hasn't happened. I can't throw it and catch it. My job is to go out there and run routes and make plays when I do get opportunities."
Number three is what we see consistently from Owens, yet people insist he's trying to take subtle shots at his quarterback every time. Owens's effort to NOT implicate anyone in particular is lost on these individuals.
These people expect him to choose option "one" every single time. They want faux-humility. They want ridiculous lies so they can feel all warm and fuzzy about a player's faux-class and faux-humbleness.
When the situation involves Owens, everything to these people becomes black and white. If Owens's numbers drop, it's either his fault or the quarterback's. Or maybe the offensive coordinator's. It's always someone's FAULT for numbers not being as huge as we've seen from he or other receivers in the past. It can't just be a matter of the system being a certain way because it's working to help the team win. It can't just be a matter of other players taking targets away from him because they're also good players who help the offense when they are involved. It can't just be a matter of an overall philosophy that is neither right or wrong (the view on it just depends on how the team as a whole plays)...but that overall philosophy is not conducive to big numbers from one particular receiver.
Nope...people always want an explanation, and they will only accept that it could be one of two answers:
1. It's Owens's fault
2. It's someone else's fault.
At least one prominent Cowboys player was displeased that the coaching staff responded to the criticism by seemingly placating Owens in that Sunday's game against San Francisco, allowing him enough opportunities that he posted his best statistical line as a Cowboy: seven catches for 213 yards, including a 75-yard TD.
"Well, T.O. got his way,'' the player said. "It never fails how we operate around here. Drives me crazy, but what can you do?''
"At LEAST one." Translation? One. Had it been more than one, Werder would have said so. He would have said, "more than one," or "multiple," or "two," or "47." But he has but one source. Maybe someone else agrees with this one source, he doesn't know. But he does know for a fact that AT LEAST ONE Cowboys player believes this.
Now, what does this tell you about this player? Owens caught 7 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys routed the 49ers. And this player is displeased because "T.O. got his way." This player isn't happy his team won, he is unhappy Owens got the ball.
Werder's player source credibility at this point? I don't know, you tell me. How much stock should we put in the words of a player who judged him from media reports before he came to Dallas, claims to know how Owens and other Cowboys' players feel, and is UPSET after his team wins a game because one of his teammates had a big statistical outing and was a critical part of them winning that game?
Oh, but I forget...7 catch, 213 yard games just grow on trees and can be magically created by the Cowboys' playbook and brilliant play calling. The Cowboys can beat teams like this any way they want, but they instead chose to give the big, mean Terrell Owens a big game.
Phillips justified Owens' argument by agreeing that getting him the ball needed to be the first offensive priority, and then owner Jerry Jones further empowered him by claiming he had no issue with anything Owens said in the interview.
"Further empowered him." Biased language from the author. What else is new?
Said another source: "What do you think he said after he complained about not getting the ball and then in the San Francisco game he gets 213? He said, 'Look. It works. The more hell I raise, the more I get what I want.'"
Said another SOURCE. Not another TEAMMATE. Another SOURCE.
Could it be the same non-player source (Werder himself) from earlier? Does it even matter? Someone who isn't even part of the Dallas Cowboys made this statement.
And like the player with ulterior motives, this source seems to think it's a BAD thing Owens had a huge game in helping the Cowboys defeat the 49ers that day. Yes, look what happened after he "complained about not getting the ball" (creative interpretation of Owens's words). He had a huge game and was the driving force in his team winning 35-22. ~THE HORROR~
Owens in March signed a four-year contract extension worth $34 million, including a $12.9 million signing bonus to bind him to the Cowboys through the 2011 season.
To BIND him to the Cowboys? Holy word choice, Batman.
When asked if Romo and Owens were all right together as the team prepares to play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday, James said, "Yeah. It's gotta be. It better be.''
Keep asking questions to make it look like it's real.
The latest controversy comes toward the end of a season that began with Owens saying in training camp that he shared a relationship with Romo that he never had with other quarterbacks with whom he played. That, Owens said, was because Romo knew he was the star of the Cowboys and was not threatened by Owens' status as were previous quarterbacks.
"I guess sometimes I've just been in situations where the quarterbacks felt like I was bigger than them,'' Owens said in July. "And, you know, that was never the case. I felt like whatever I did complemented the quarterback, whatever he did, vice versa. It's just been a situation where things happen, where things didn't work out.''
Romo seemed equally at peace with Owens. "The thing about it is there's a genuine caring about each other. I actually want the guy to succeed. He works hard, he works his butt off. And he cares about the guys, so it's easy to root for a guy like that.
Why are you saying all this stuff, Ed? Why? Do we need the entire back story? Why are these the only real quotes from either Romo or Owens in this article?
"It's important for us to be on the same page. It's important for us to care about the other one, just because our success is directly related. ... The thing you notice mostly about him is that he talks about 'team' a lot. He wants to win. He understands that, at this stage of his career, he's done all the things individually he can do. Now, it's just a matter of winning.''
Whether it is like that anymore -- and whether the Cowboys can achieve their own stated goals with the relationship between Owens and Romo and Witten being what it is now -- remains to be determined.
Since Romo became Dallas' starter, he has completed more passes to Witten than to Owens, 201-186, although Owens has significantly more yards and three times as many touchdowns.
Whether it is like that anymore? Didn't you just say it isn't? Don't back out now, Ed.
"You really want to address it with him and say, "Are you serious? Let's cut the s---. But we're trying to win our way into the playoffs and, if something like that happened, if you backed him into a corner, he'd be pissed off and try to fight you or something,'' the current Cowboys player said. "So what do you do? Let it go? Then you're just like everybody else. If he's got a problem and he's upset, clear the air. He should know that everything we do on offense goes through him."
And here we have CONFIRMATION that I was right all along about there only being one actual source within the Cowboys. This quote is attributed to "THE CURRENT COWBOYS PLAYER." THE
current Cowboys player. If there were multiple Cowboys players cited in this piece, we would have no idea whom Werder is referring to. But we know, because as Werder reveals here, he only had one all along. That didn't stop him from trying to imply there might be more (though he had no proof). That didn't stop him from being evasive and avoiding the admission until the very end.
So what of "multiple sources inside the Dallas Cowboys" in the beginning, you ask?
Rather simple. Werder stretched the quotes he received from the likes of James, Owens, and Witten as being "affirmation." Bradie James admitted they don't always see eye-to-eye, so that's enough to be "affirmation" of conflict, in Werder's opinion. Owens admitted he had discussed Romo's progressions with Jason Garrett in a private meeting, so Werder would surely try to tell you this is also "affirmation." And Witten didn't outright deny everything, so Werder may even try to tell you that is somehow a "source" for the truth of this article.
It doesn't take much. This is how journalists get away with inaccurate and unfounded reports on a regular basis. Somehow, many sports fans refuse to believe this could ever happen in this particular realm.
Ed Werder covers the NFL for ESPN. ESPN.com's NFL reporter Matt Mosley contributed to this report.
What did Werder contribute, and what did Mosley contribute? Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Doesn't Mosley allege to "speak regularly with Owens's teammates?" Maybe that was his contribution. Or maybe he just contributed numerous assertions that weren't even connected to any source.
Regardless, this is a good model for all journalism students who wish to learn how to make nothing into something. Biased language, evasive language, linguistic tricks, et. al. At least one person believes this article to be unfounded, exaggerated, and ultimately insignificant bunk that fueled Owens's release from Dallas.