I was almost eight years old and I knew I wanted the Dallas Cowboys to beat the Washington Redskins. The winner would go to the Super Bowl. I also knew that as a fan, Dexter Manley was the player that scared me the most.
I remember the way he looked with his hand in the dirt. He was like a monster, waiting behind a sling shot. Number seventy-two would explode into the backfield. He was tall, powerful, and hungry to kill quarterbacks. Manley hated the Cowboys and I could feel it through the TV. I would watch him pre snap, and be worried for the health of every offensive player on Dallas.
As the 1980’s rolled on the NFC East was coached by Parcells, Gibbs, and Buddy Ryan. There were plenty of defenses to worry about, especially as the Cowboys were coming down inside the pack.
There were also better players than Manley in his division, and even on his own team. Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, and Darrell Green rush to mind. Dexter had a stand out career. The category was not about complete play, it was about fear.
It was natural for me to cheer for Tony Dorsett and Danny White. To want their success, was to learn the guys on the other side can be scary. Dexter Manley will always have respect in my memory.
When the name Tom Brady comes up, there is one memory I’ll always think of first. It’s not a Super Bowl, Ugg slippers, or a controversy. It’s a random week five game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2011. It’s actually a singular moment that stands out in my mind.
This game was a big deal to me. The chance to beat the Pats and Tom Brady (and my buddy David Schultz) is an opportunity that comes around every four years. It was New England’s turn to play at home. The Cowboys came to compete hard on this Sunday in October.
It was one of those games where Dallas was out playing them, but only maintaining small leads. The Cowboys offense was sinking in the red zone as the Patriots held them to field goals multiple times.
The real action began here. There was five minutes left, and New England had the ball down by three points. Even in 2011, my fear of Brady was intense. You know this is where he sticks it to you. I was shocked and elated when the Cowboys held them to a three and out. They have picked off Tom twice today, sacked him three times, and now this? Wow! They have to take advantage.
Dallas has the ball with 3:36 to go. A couple first downs and this baby is in the refrigerator. First down. DeMarco Murray gets tackled in the backfield for minus two. Second down and twelve. Minimum Dallas needs to throw a screen pass here. Instead, Murray on the ground for minus one. Tony Romo melted down the week before vs Detroit, and the coaching staff got gun-shy. Sitting on a lead in the NFL is telling the football Gods you would like to lose. Playing that way against Bill Belichick, you are begging to lose.
This was the moment. I KNEW the game was over. It was now third and 13. Dallas still had the ball and the lead. Time was running out. I just KNEW the game was over. The Cowboys were not going to throw for sure now. Even with all that still had to take place……I just KNEW it was over. Brady is not going to let them off the hook again. Zero chance.
Third down. False start Dallas. Run for a few yards. Punt. Brady now has the ball on his team’s own 20 yard line. There is 2:31 left to play. This defense that had played rugged all day, was about to be burnt toast. There was no deep mystery here.
Then it happened. It was like an episode of Batman from the 1960’s. Pow! Sock! Wham! Tom was 8-9 passing on the drive for 79 yards. It’s like he was taking a walk in the park. Finally, the dagger came in the form of an eight yard touchdown pass with a measly 27 seconds on the clock.
Cowboys fans had their hearts broken on that play. I started dealing with it twenty minutes earlier. Tom Brady is so great, you can assume he will do difficult things easily.
Tony Romo was not drafted. He was an elite talent who carved out a fine career. He will fall short of the Hall of Fame, but deserves an important label. Romo’s overrated teams, helped him become the most underrated player of his generation. He wasn’t just bashed for coming up short. He was not recognized for carrying many of his ball clubs. Tony was a high risk, high reward player. He was more clutch than you realize. When he melted down? He could come apart with the best of them. Over his first seven seasons, Romo struggled to be consistent.
No window of play explains this quarterback like the opening month of the 2011 season. This four game stretch defines Tony Romo.
WEEK #1 (9/12/11) COWBOYS AT JETS
Opening day. Sunday night football. I waited all year. I waited all day. The Cowboys controlled the first half, while Romo put on a clinic in escaping New York defenders. Fast forward to the early part of the fourth quarter. Dallas is up a touchdown with the ball. Tony hits Jason Witten on a beautiful 64 yard pass and run. Unfortunately (for me), Jason was pushed out at the one yard line. Two snaps later on third and goal…Tony was forced to step up in the pocket and take off to the end zone with his legs. He plowed forward with his head down. The ball was knocked lose and he fumbled. The Jets kept themselves alive. With five minutes left, New York blocked a punt and turned it into a quick six. With the game tied, and 55 seconds remaining…Tony challenged the best corner in the game. Darrelle Revis made him pay for it. He scooped up the easy pick and headed down the sideline. The Jets went on to win 27-24. This was the first impression of the season for the already polarizing Romo. He was destroyed in the media all week-long.
WEEK #2 (9/18/11) COWBOYS AT 49ERS
Dallas hit the road again to face a physical 49ers defense. Early in the second quarter, Romo was blasted from behind by corner Carlos Rogers. Tony was left with fractured ribs and a punctured lung. He finished out the second quarter. After being evaluated at halftime, the Cowboys started the second half with Jon Kitna. After Jon had two picks and Dallas was now down ten, Romo had seen enough. Despite spitting blood, Tony was obsessed with avoiding an 0-2 start to the year. He re entered the contest and dominated in pressure. He led Dallas to a fourth quarter tie. On the first drive of overtime, Romo threw a perfect 77 yard strike to a reality-tv star named Jesse Holley (caught seven passes in his career). He was tackled at the one. Dallas kicked the chip shot field goal and won the game 27-24. In the fourth quarter and the extra session..Tony was 12-15 throwing with 201 yards. A week after being the focus of serious scrutiny, Romo put on a display of what real leadership is.
WEEK #3 (9/26/11) REDSKINS AT COWBOYS
Because of the division opponent, this was the biggest game of the four. Tony was wearing a Kevlar vest. With every throw in warm ups, you could see him wincing through the pain. This was a competitive night as you would expect. These Redskins hit hard and they made sure number nine knew it. The score was Washington 16, Dallas 15 with 2:20 left. The Cowboys had the ball on a dire third down and 21. Tony rolled right, faded deep behind the line of scrimmage, and connected with Dez Bryant for a 30 yard gain. Kicker Dan Bailey put the ball through the goal posts and Dallas won the game 18-16.
WEEK #4 (10/2/11) LIONS AT COWBOYS
Romo came out hotter than McDonald’s coffee. In the early stages of the third quarter, he had his team in a commanding 27-3 lead. Tony got careless. He threw two pick sixes in the third quarter. The Lions were now right in the game. You could feel the Cowboys fans with lumps in their throats. An uneasy feeling was looming over this life-size stadium. Dallas was nursing a three-point lead with just over four minutes on the clock. Romo threw one more unforgivable pick. You can’t give Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson layups. They made Dallas regret it, and completed a stunning come from behind 34-30 victory. On a day where Tony completed 72 percent of his passes, for 331 yards and three scores, he played one of the worst games of his life. This one hurt.
He made bone headed plays, and was always called out for being a choke artist.
He was often brilliant in the clutch. His lack of team success, left this fact buried in history.
Before he was “fragile” at the end of his career, Romo was an all time tough guy.
Over his first seven seasons, he was like a thrilling roller coaster with good and bad results.
This four game stretch, was a fair look at who Tony Romo was as an NFL QB.
It’s summer, and it’s time to break down NFL schedules for each team once again. I’m amazed how it’s loosely thrown around that some team’s have “brutal schedules” and some have “easy ones.” I remember just over a decade ago hearing ESPN’s John Clayton say, “the most important keys to a season are quarterback play and your teams schedule.” Really? QB play maybe. Your schedule? This isn’t college bro. These are not 200 teams where the levels of play can be so drastically different. These are the 32 best football teams in the world. Everyone is looking for that inch to expose you. Worst to first shocks nobody anymore. Even within a season, franchises can change month to month in how they are performing. I love the guy that is proud his team is number 3 in “the power poll.” That’s a completely meaningless tool. It’s a weak copycat of college polls to generate discussion.
There is always a little variance, and some schedules turn out to be more or less of a climb. Not all challenges in the NFL are equal. They are however painted on the same canvas of difficulty. Maybe your team had to play someone at the time they were their hottest. Maybe they have three road games in winter cities come December. Did they have to play Tom Brady twice? Is there an extra awesome division that year? Did they have to play a group that just got all their injured guys back? Life happens. It’s 2018, and the NFL is the ultimate league of parity. Everyone has a chance. If you are attached to a pro football team…you get it. There are NO WEEKENDS OFF. The Cleveland Browns were 0-16 last year. I thought they played hard. Seriously. They are more of a threat to any NFL squad, than Idaho State is to Michigan.
The difference between a 7-9 team, and a Super Bowl champion might be four players and twenty total plays. It’s hard to win games in the National Football League. As a kid in the mid eighties, it seemed there were more dominant teams. Player movement was less frequent and chemistry had more of a chance to grow. I could look at the 1984 49ers or the 1985 Bears schedules and guess my way through it. You try to figure out the league today? Not happening. Stop saying your NFL team’s schedule is hard. They ARE ALL HARD.
I’ve always thought the best part of football was the love and trust between teammates. Whether it’s kids on the playground of West Kearns Elementary, a high school game, or the AFC Championship ….football’s heart beat is about sacrificing and protecting each other on the way to your teams goals.
In 2005 during his Hall of Fame speech, Steve Young put it like this:
“Football players talk about the comradery with a deep sense of passion and commitment. It is the sport that when one of your guys says, “I got your back” it’s not figurative. You depend on them physically and emotionally.”
“If you are lucky enough to make it a career, you can not play very long without a love of the game. The game demands too much of you physically, emotionally and even spiritually, to stay in it if you don’t love it. I don’t care how much you get paid. You show me a six, eight, ten-year veteran of the NFL and I’ll show you a man who loves the game by definition. Money isn’t the key at the moment of impact. I have seen a lot of guys playing for money in practice and warm ups. I have never seen anyone play for money at the point of contact. You can not buy a football player on game day. He plays for the love of the game, and that is why it’s impossible for money to ruin it.”
He is a bright guy who has said a lot of quality things. Those were my favorite words that I’ve heard from Steve Young.
It’s often mentioned on the side, but we don’t talk enough about Joe Montana playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. His time there was a vital chapter in his story book run. It’s more remembered as him slowing down and not winning big. That’s the lazy memory. These two seasons added a layer to his journey worth bringing up. When you are talking about his legacy, Joe Montana’s Chiefs days deserve more love.
Go back in time with me and think of the climate. Montana had just been involved in the loudest QB controversy of all time with Steve Young. Joe had missed two full seasons and Young was rolling. Montana was now healthy for the last regular season game in 1992. San Francisco played him for a half, and Joe looked razor-sharp. You could feel the 49er’s fans loyalty pouring out of the television. Those same people felt empty. It was time for number 16 to go.
KANSAS CITY 1993
It’s often a risk for someone of Montana’s stature to change teams. He was the best QB I had ever seen play. There was a lot to live up to. The Chiefs were a defensive football team. Joe was blessed with Marcus Allen. Instead of Rice, Clark, or John Taylor to throw to…..Montana now needed to bring along wide receivers Willie Davis and J.J. Birden.
Joe was 8-3 as a starter. He fumbled only once. He was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs were AFC West champions for the first time in 20 years.
On fourth down and seven. with the season on the line….Joe threw a touchdown pass to tie a Wild Card game against the Steelers. Kansas City won in overtime.
In the Divisional round at Houston, Montana led another come from behind victory.
Kansas City and their quarterback made it to the AFC championship where they were out classed by the Buffalo Bills.
In the span of eight days, the Kansas City version of Joe Montana won as many playoff games as Joe Namath, Tony Romo, Ken Anderson, and Michael Vick each did in their entire careers.
PLAYING AGAINST STEVE YOUNG
September 11th 1994. San Francisco at Kansas City. I know it wasn’t a one on one game of basketball in the Park. Steve Young vs. Joe Montana was a huge deal. The game was “bigger” for Young. Still, Montana playing better and winning 24-17 was powerful career gravy. It kept the perception alive that Steve was the one still chasing Joe. Young and his guys went on to win what matters most, the Super Bowl. The two only played once, and Joe got him.
Five weeks later in Denver, Montana threw a scoring strike with eight seconds remaining to beat, and out duel John Elway in the clutch.
In only 25 regular season games in Kansas City, Joe was named the “AFC offensive player of the week” five times.
The reason Montana’s time as a Chief was important, is because things were harder for him. Getting off the ground seemed to take quite an effort. He was beat up. The numbers were now nice, not elite. This was a very good Chiefs team, not the dynasty he had helped build. Through the age and pain, I could still see the surgeon….. the tough guy with the sweet feet…and mostly I could still see “Joe cool.”
The New England Patriots just played their typical “this is anybody’s game” type Super Bowl. It was another classic, and this time the Pats fell short. You’re sick of Tom Brady winning? I can appreciate that. You took joy in him losing Super Bowl 52? Most have your back. The amount of shade being put in Brady’s direction is over the top. Rob Parker shouted, “this clearly takes away his greatest of all time label.” Shannon Sharpe claims “this loss was 75 percent Brady’s fault.”
Trying to re adjust where this QB ranks historically is a bad look. I think he came out of this game, a greater player. Tom threw some bad balls, sure. He also dropped an overthrown pass that will bother him for the rest of his life. The crucial fumble at the end? That was a product of the game. The Eagles made an incredible play. That was zero percent on Brady.
This performance was about heavy lifting. His defense gave him very little help. No player ever had 500 plus yards, three scores, with zero picks and lost ANY game. Tom carried his team to simply having a chance.
You do realize the greatest quarterback debate is over right? I can buy that you prefer someone else. It’s true others have played the game as well, and several close to as well. Brady doesn’t have Elway’s arm and leg strength. He doesn’t have Marino’s release or Aaron Rodgers fluid skills.
Joe Montana played football just as good as Tom does. Joe was equally as surgical, and moved like a ballerina. Brady has been Montana like, for much longer. In the impossible world of ranking players, I moved Tom past Joe as the “GOAT” Thanksgiving day 2015.
In review, number 12 was just the MVP of the NFL at the age of 40. He was down 10 in the fourth quarter of the championship game to the best defense in the AFC. The result was his 27th playoff win. Perspective? Over a combined 32 seasons, legit Hall of Famer’s Dan Fouts and Warren Moon combined for six post season victories.
The year ends with Tom’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. I’d guess his performance was a record-breaking, disappointing “9.3”. Once the Patriots took the lead, you were sure they would win. Hail Mary on the last play? You were scared to death! We have seen Brady pull off clutch gems on the biggest stage so often, it’s become a habit to think he will come through. He lost? I know.
How does the loss affect his legacy? He’s on a different level. Tom Brady can now be considered the greatest football player of all time. I understand the game is diverse. Brady did not dominate in the way Jim Brown did. Tom will never be the best player ever at two positions like Deion Sanders. Jerry Rice was perfect. Larry Allen could bench press over 700 lbs. and played like it. How good were Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, and Lawrence Taylor at football? Walter Payton was elusive, powerful, and maybe the best running back ever. He could also block, kick, catch, return kicks, tackle and throw. I understand the game is diverse.
Tom Brady is as good as all of them. His resume is better. He plays the most important position in the ultimate team sport. His job is to win football games. In an era of player movement and parity, this guy kind of owns the league. He’s not Michael Jordan, but he sits at the same table. You thought Sunday hurt Brady’s legacy? Sorry.