T.O.'s IFL debut is surreal experience

ALLEN, Texas -- Say whatever you want about Terrell Owens being a diva or selfish or a bad teammate, just make sure you mention that for a decade he was one of the NFL's best receivers.

That's not debatable.

He's caught more than a thousand passes and scored 153 touchdowns in his NFL career.

So watching him spend three hours Saturday night wearing a navy blue jersey with his white No. 81 trimmed in red and a silver helmet with script "W" on the side qualifies as surreal.

There's no other word for it.

But there he was Saturday night on the field at the Allen Event Center north of Dallas with a group of anonymous players in a largely anonymous professional indoor football league.

A record-setting crowd of 5,711 saw T.O. catch three passes for 53 yards and three touchdowns and get named Player of the Game in the Allen Wranglers' 50-30 win over the Wichita Wild.

Shocking, I know.

Afterward, T.O. signed Dallas Cowboys jerseys, game programs, plastic footballs and anything else fans placed on the table in front of him for 30 minutes after the game.

It was an interesting crowd.

Some were Cowboys fans and T.O. fans who wanted another glimpse at their favorite player. Others were rubberneckers trying to figure out why a potential Hall of Fame receiver was playing in something called the Indoor Football League.

And with the Mavs on their All-Star break, the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., and the Stars off until Sunday, there wasn't much else for a sports fan to do in Dallas if he or she wanted to watch a game in person.

T.O. delivered a show in the first half.

Sort of.

He drew a 15-yard pass interference penalty on his first play -- a big deal in a game that bills itself as "50 yards of football fury" -- but didn't catch a pass until the second quarter.

By halftime, T.O. had caught touchdown passes of 10, 27 and 16 yards.

After the last touchdown reception -- he snatched the ball from some dude named Kendrick Harper -- T.O. delivered a staredown before doing a victory lap and slapping hands with the fans.

Yes, he flashed his trademark, toothy, megawatt smile as he headed to the bench. Apparently scoring touchdowns in any league remains fun for the 38-year-old receiver, who desperately wants another shot in the NFL.

"I've always prided myself on being a playmaker, whether it's [in] this league," he said, "or the NFL."

Returning to the NFL is hardly a given for T.O.

We're talking about a senior citizen -- based on NFL standards -- who missed last year with a torn ACL. We're also talking about a player who's known far and wide as a quarterback killer, though his current quarterback, Bryan Randall, would disagree.

At this point of T.O.'s career, it's hard to fathom a good team giving him a contract, because it won't want the drama. A bad team doesn't need the drama. And at this point of his career, it's doubtful T.O. is good enough to push an average team over the hump.

As you would expect, T.O. disagrees.

And he's willing to play minor league football 25 miles east of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch training complex to show NFL scouts and general managers his knee is sound and his attitude is good.

He also needs some cash, based on a GQ article that reports he's gone through nearly $80 million for a variety of reasons, and the Wranglers have given him an ownership share of the team.

So it's also a good business deal for him. He's contracted to play only home games, but he'll play in some road games if he gets a percentage of the gate.

You have to figure in markets such as Sioux Falls, S.D., where there aren't professional teams in one of the big four sports leagues, those franchises would be tempted to ante up for a name such as T.O. to play in their city.

Only time will tell. For now, he'll continue to adjust to the IFL.

T.O. didn't catch a pass in the second half and dropped the only ball thrown his direction, resulting in an interception, but he did make a nice block on a short touchdown run in the fourth quarter.


Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.