IRVING, Texas - Keyshawn Johnson touched a nerve with Terrell Owens with his comments on ESPN's Sunday Countdown.

Johnson, a former No. 1 overall draft choice whose tenure with Dallas ended when the Cowboys signed Owens, said former coach Bill Parcells - Johnson's ESPN co-host - deserves much of the credit for building the team that has reeled off a 12-1 record, and Owens would have to accept that.

Owens not only disagreed with that statement, he also took a few shots at Johnson, in part for earlier comments Owens perceived as negative.

"I'm probably the main reason he's in the booth right now," Owens said yesterday at the Cowboys' Valley Ranch complex. "We came out the same year. He was a first-rounder, I was a third-rounder. I'm still playing, he's not. You compare our stats up until the time he retired, it's a no-brainer.

"I'd challenge him to come out and try to make this team. He'd be a third or fourth receiver at this point . . . I challenge him to come out of retirement and take my job. Come on, ESPN producers, let him go.

"Here's a guy, writes a book, 'Give Me the Damn Ball,' and [in 2001] he has 106 catches and one touchdown, and that was off a tipped pass. I'll never do that in my career. He can hate all he wants to . . . They can have their little pity party and talk about me all day long. It doesn't bother me."

Owens said the Cowboys' success is more a result of new coach Wade Phillips and his staff than the foundation Parcells laid in his 4 seasons with Dallas.

"Everybody wants to make a big deal, that this is the team [Parcells] built," Owens said. "The difference between Wade and Parcells is this: Parcells didn't use me as a playmaker. [With] Wade, that's what I'm being used as. Plain and simple, without trying to be negative or anything. I'm being used as a playmaker, and as I said, the proof is in the pudding."

Parcells, appearing locally yesterday morning on WPEN (950-AM), was told Owens has said he's happier with the Cowboys this season than last season.

"Tell him there are two people happier," Parcells said. "It's what it is, and it's not changing." *