IRVING, Texas Terrell Owens missed the perfect opportunity to raise his voice an octave or two and do an imitation of Jim Mora's infamous "Playoffs?" rant when the Dallas Cowboys receiver was asked yet again about the Super Bowl.
Imagine T.O. with that same quizzical, disgusted look Mora wore during his 2001 outburst that's a YouTube staple and was recently revived in a beer commercial.
"Super Bowl? ... Are you kidding me? Super Bowl? I'm just hoping we can win a playoff game," he might say.
Instead, Owens issued a levelheaded response to what must be a tiresome question for a team that has fallen agonizingly short in the playoffs the last two Januarys. The Cowboys have gone 11 seasons without a postseason victory, much less their record sixth Super Bowl title.
"Everybody keeps talking about the Super Bowl," Owens said. "We obviously feel we're going to make the playoffs. ... We've got to win a playoff game first before we do anything. Until we get that done, there is no Super Bowl."
With Tony Romo and Owens among an NFL-record 13 Pro Bowl players back from a 13-win team that was the NFC's top seed, there seems to be no reason to question whether the Cowboys can get back into the playoffs for the third straight season.
But even the often hyperbolic and overenthusiastic Jerry Jones has deftly avoided making predictions or uttering "Super Bowl" all while acting like an owner who certainly believes his team should be able to get there.
Owens is among five Pro Bowlers with new multiyear contracts, a commitment of $70 million by Jones. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was a finalist for two NFL head coaching jobs, Jones gave him about $3 million to stay. And the Cowboys kept both first-round draft picks, getting players expected to help now: running back Felix Jones and cornerback Mike Jenkins.
"All that speaks volumes to what I think we ought to be," the owner said.
It has been a long wait for Jones, whose Cowboys went from 1-15 his first season owning the team in 1989 to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year stretch in the mid-1990s. Since winning its last championship during the 1995 season, though, Dallas has won only one playoff game.
Dallas was at home last January when Romo's fourth-down pass with 9 seconds left was intercepted near the end zone by the New York Giants, the NFC East rival and eventual Super Bowl champions the Cowboys had swept in the regular season.
A year before that, Romo flubbed the hold on what would have been a short go-ahead field goal in the closing minutes at Seattle.
"We feel like we are that good and we belong in those games," Romo said. "We belong in those situations and we are going to try to put ourselves in that situation for the next decade. And if we can, we'll eventually break through."
With the collection of talent the Cowboys have assembled, Jones hopes eventually doesn't take too long.
How about a championship to close out Texas Stadium? The Cowboys are leaving the iconic venue after this season to move into their new $1 billion-plus facility that will host the Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.
Owens' 28 touchdown catches the last two seasons are the most in the NFL, and the 34-year-old receiver is seemingly content. There are no contract issues after getting his three-year extension this summer, pushing his deal through 2011 instead of expiring after this season.
Romo, already a two-time Pro Bowler, set team records with 4,211 yards passing and 36 TDs last year in his first full season as the starter.
The most significant offensive change is Marion Barber starting at running back, something he never did before the playoff game against the Giants, when he rushed for 127 yards. Julius Jones left in free agency, but it was already clear that Barber had taken over as the No. 1 back.
With Garrett still calling plays for basically the same group of players that set numerous team records and scored the second-most points in the NFL, the Cowboys will be building on instead of trying to learn a new system.
"No one has to adjust to any new players coming in and stuff like that," receiver Patrick Crayton said. "We know what we want to achieve, so I think that already everybody is on the same page. That makes it a lot easier to get out here and move forward."
There are a few changes on defense, but all should be beneficial.
Seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Zach Thomas turns 35 the week of the season opener, but the Texas native comes home with the chance to be part of a legitimate Super Bowl contender and finally win a championship after 12 seasons in Miami.
Thomas gives the Cowboys a powerful 1-2 combination in the middle with Bradie James, the team's leading tackler the last three seasons.
Tank Johnson played only the second half of last season after serving his NFL suspension. The nose tackle is now at ease and comfortable in the Cowboys' system, enabling him to have a more prominent role.
Assuming that Adam "Pacman" Jones is fully reinstated for the regular season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after a forced yearlong hiatus, the cornerback will fulfill a dual need by providing secondary depth and an explosive kick returner.
Put it all together, and those super expectations seem legitimate. But the Cowboys have those other steps to take, the ones they stumbled over in the past.
"We can't focus on the stuff from the past because it will haunt us," safety Roy Williams said. "We want to win a playoff game."