There was a time when I used to rip everything Terrell Owens said apart, calling him a fool, and hammering him with the same petulant label that’s followed the likes of Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco around for years.

He has been a fool in the past, and he still is now, but for different reasons. He still legitimately thinks he can play in the NFL, and at 38 he’s trying to make a return to the league while slugging away in the IFL. But the more I hear him speak, the more I’m beginning to change my opinion of his personality, and think that although sometimes his mental filter still fails, he’s just simply has an intensely passionate dude.

You can hear it in his tone, and you can certainly see it in his actions after he kept rehabbing with the intention to play again when he tore his ACL, even though he’s well on the wrong side of 35. So sometimes words get strung together when they’re fueled by that passion, and a specific part of the sentence is the only section that’s remembered.

Today we experienced that phenomenon when Internet headlines zeroed in on one segment of a lengthy quote Owens gave during an ESPN Radio interview when a zany word association game led to a question about his exit from Dallas in 2008, and specifically Tony Romo.

“With that situation, dude, I’ve kind of lost my respect for that situation. Man, that’s a guy I shed tears for, I went to bat for. Then obviously, ultimately I’m not in Dallas anymore and I know he definitely had a hand in that. So, again, it’s one of those things that you kind of just have to bite your tongue and keep moving on, you know what I mean?”

He’s referring to Romo, and he’s probably right. Romo almost surely played a role in Owens’ exit, but T.O himself played a much larger role. One word–the word “respect”–is getting the most play from that quote, and the use of that word is a product of Owens’ frustration about the end of his time in Dallas that still lingers four years later. That wasn’t an emotion unique to Owens, as there was plenty of frustration during that turbulent time in the Cowboys’ locker room.

It’s convenient to read that quote without the quote that follows. It’s also unfair, so here’s the rest.

“I just happened to be one of those guys that really voiced my opinion. I wasn’t the only one who thought that way. There were games that other guys were open. I wasn’t saying that to get the ball thrown to me a lot more times. I was all about winning. During the course of games and if you watch the film, there were other guys that were open that didn’t get the ball. That was my thing.”

And there’s more…

“I think that’s what’s really misconstrued is that my passion and things that I say can be viewed that I’m being selfish and it’s all about me, but my goal has always been about winning a championship. I think if you really ask my teammates that they’ll really convey that and they’ll tell you honestly that’s what I’m about.”

No one can hide Owens from the terrible decisions he made earlier in his career when he was a young punk, like questioning the sexual orientation of Jeff Garcia (don’t worry, Jeff is doing quite well for himself), and doing driveway push-ups instead of catching footballs when he was an Eagle. So he’s more than earned his reputation, and burned the privilege to have the benefit of any doubt.

But we’ve seen clips of many well respected leaders like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning yelling at teammates and/or coaches on the field, something that no doubt happens in the locker room behind closed doors too during the course of a long season when players are around each other more than their families.

Owens is saying that as a veteran he did the same thing in Dallas. Manning and Brady are viewed as fearless leaders, while years later Owens is still a menace and a bully, proving that a checkered past never truly fades.