The Cowboys rolled the dice on Owens in 2006 precisely because they hadn't won a playoff game since the first round in 1996. Three years later, that dubious streak remains intact. The Bills were willing to roll the dice on Owens in 2009 because, let's face it, what does Dick Jauron and his staff have to lose? Buffalo hasn't even made the playoffs since the 1999 season -- tied for the NFL's longest active drought -- and hasn't won a postseason game since beating Miami in 1995's first round. Unless that run of futility ends, Jauron and his assistants will be elsewhere in 2010 anyway.
For a little perspective on just how long the Bills and their fans have been waiting for the return of real relevance in the NFL, consider that Owens was drafted in 1996, meaning he has played his entire 13-season career without seeing Buffalo notch a playoff win.
Only four teams have longer droughts going when it comes to postseason wins: Cincinnati (since 1990), Detroit (1991), Kansas City (1993) and Cleveland (1994). Of that group, only the Lions can equal the Bills when it comes to not even making the playoffs this decade, with both teams last qualifying in 1999.
Is it any wonder, then, that desperate times called for desperate measures? The Bills might not have been on anyone's list of probable suitors when it came to Owens' free agency, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense for a team that hasn't generated any real sense of excitement, at least since Doug Flutie was flinging 'em into the wind in Orchard Park in the late '90s.
For the record, I like the Bills' gambit because at least they're the first to realize the shrewdest move is to merely date Owens, rather than propose a full-fledged marriage. T.O. should be on a year-to-year lease rather than a long-term relationship at this point in his way-too-eventful career, and as has been pointed out far and wide, he's usually on his best behavior in the first season at a new NFL locale (except for all that drama about a supposed overdose/suicide attempt in Dallas in 2006).
Owens in Buffalo still sounds very strange to the ear, but there are things about it that hold considerable intrigue for the 2009 season. Here are five quick thoughts that came to mind when the Bills made their boldest move since trading for Drew Bledsoe in 2002:
• A doubleheader renewal of the "original 81'' versus "the other 81'' rivalry: I've been on hand the last two times Owens and Randy Moss have squared off, and both games made for great theater. In 2003, Moss and his Vikings routed Owens and his 49ers 35-7 in Minneapolis, with Moss scoring three times and amassing 172 yards of receiving. Owens was held to just five catches for 55 yards in the game, and aimed a postgame tirade in the direction of quarterback Jeff Garcia, the move that effectively sealed the end of his tenure in San Francisco.
In 2007, Owens and Moss met again, this time playing for Dallas and New England, respectively. Before the game, Owens prompted everyone to "getcha popcorn ready,'' but it was the Patriots and Moss whose play spoke the loudest in the battle of 5-0 teams at Texas Stadium. New England won 48-27, with Moss catching six passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, and Owens totaling six for 66 yards and one score. Moss helped draw coverage away from Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth, who combined to torment the Dallas defense with a combined 18 catches.
With Owens and Moss now being in the same division, the AFC East features the NFL's No. 2 and No. 4 career receiving touchdown leaders (132 for Owens, 125 for Moss), and two of the top 11 receiving yardage leaders of all time (14,122 for Owens, 13,201 for Moss). All told, the duo have combined for 1,794 receptions, 27,323 yards, 257 touchdowns and zero Super Bowl rings.
• That's a great little story about Bills quarterback Trent Edwards texting Buffalo COO Russ Brandon a plea to sign Owens, but I wonder what Garcia, Donovan McNabb and Tony Romo would text Edwards if they could send him their one piece of advice? Maybe be careful what you wish for? And make sure you get you-know-who the ball?
And while we're at it, guess what jersey number Edwards wears? Yep, that lucky No. 5. Just like Garcia and McNabb. The combination of 5 and 81 didn't work out so well in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Another member of the single-digit quarterback club, Dallas's No. 9, Romo, fared only slightly better.
• After 13 years of football life in the NFC, Owens is bringing his unique brand of game (and baggage) to the AFC. Well, that's not entirely accurate. Owens, of course, was traded from San Francisco to Baltimore in March 2004, but when he balked at becoming a Raven and filed a grievance to become a free agent, Baltimore, San Francisco and Philadelphia wound up working out a three-way settlement that allowed T.O. to join the Eagles as he so urgently desired.
And we all know how that one turned out.
• Jauron becomes the seventh NFL head coach Owens will play for, but perhaps more tellingly, the sixth in the past eight years. That's a staggering lack of continuity that says something about T.O.'s tempestuous fly pattern through this particular decade.
In order, there's been George Seifert (1996), Steve Mariucci (1997-2002) and Dennis Erickson (2003) in San Francisco, Andy Reid (2004-2005) in Philadelphia, and Bill Parcells (2006) and Wade Phillips (2007-2008) in Dallas. You might have noticed that Owens was somewhat involved in the final seasons on the job of half of those coaches, in the case of Seifert, Mariucci and Parcells.
And come to think of it, the other three weren't so lucky either. Erickson lasted just one more season with the 49ers before being canned, Owens took years off Reid's life with his 2005 meltdown in Philly, and I'm still not sure how Phillips survived last season in Dallas.
So, good luck, Dick. You're going to need it. When it comes to coaching Owens, the trend has been toward short-term assignments. Not much OT on the job security front with T.O. around.
• The thought of what Owens might do to stir things up when the Bills play their now-annual game in Toronto has the phrase "international incident'' written all over it. Get those (T.) O', Canada headlines ready, because the man has never met a big stage he won't try to climb upon and monopolize.
The player who gave us Sharpie-gate, stomped on the Cowboys' star at midfield, and took a nap in the end zone with the ball as his pillow will surely have something ready to enliven the game that's intended to increase the Bills' regional fan base. And you can tell T.O. the showman gets it, because he deftly dropped that reference to "North America's Team'' into his introductory news conference in Buffalo on Saturday.
Owens the football ambassador, dressed in red, white and blue, and being imported to our neighbors to the north? I'm betting it sells better than the chance to watch J.P. Losman do his thing.