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.
The old saying has often been “too many guy’s get into the Hall of Fame”. The new truth is, not enough players are getting that call. We have so much more information about today’s athletes and the history of the NFL than ever before. An average of six men per year have been inducted over the past 20 seasons. That comes across as a reasonable number. If you look behind the curtain, a log jam is taking place. Looking at the category of receiver only, I think this group of retired players all have a compelling case to be in.
RETIRED RECEIVERS THAT DESERVE TO BE IN THE HALL:
RANDY MOSS: “Freak”. Legend. His go up and get it, and ball skills were a ten. Many fans would say Moss is the most talented wide receiver they have ever seen.
TERRELL OWENS: His initial power off the line of scrimmage was intense. It’s obvious T. O. is a Hall of Famer( just ask him)! Owens work ethic, skill, and level of dominance attained are all top shelf historically.
CALVIN JOHNSON: Johnson was the ultimate specimen to ever play wide receiver. I remember a few late game situations where “Megatron” was triple covered by Cowboys players. Each time the ball was in the air, it felt like the odds were 60 percent in his favor…. Calvin caught all three of them.
DREW PEARSON: Pearson was the NFC’s best receiver in the 1970’s. He is widely considered one of the greatest clutch players in football history.
CLIFF BRANCH: An elegant yards per catch guy, Branch is the only Raider to play on all three title teams. At the time of his retirement he ranked number one in total post season catches and yardage.
HINES WARD: His Pittsburgh Steelers team records speak volumes. Ward has two rings and a Super Bowl MVP. His niche of being an all time great blocker helps get him in.
ISAAC BRUCE: His 80 yard TD grab was the go ahead score in Super Bowl 34. Bruce does not have near the name he should for how awesome he was. He’s like his generations Art Monk.
STERLING SHARPE: Sharpe did not miss a game in his seven years. His career ended after a serious neck injury following a season where he scored 18 times. At his best, Sharpe was in the same class as Irvin, Carter, Reed, and Tim Brown.
TORRY HOLT: His routes were precise and his hands were like football magnets. From 2000-2009 Holt’s 868 receptions and 12, 594 yards are the highest totals, for any decade in league history.
REGGIE WAYNE: Reggie was a steady pro who likely left a HOF resume on the field. He played in 21 post season games. At the time of his retirement, no player had more receiving yardage versus Bill Belichick led teams.
ANQUAN BOLDIN: I watched every snap of his first pro game at Detroit. He had 217 beast like yards. Boldin was eventually the go to guy on a world champion. He played a month after having seven plates and 40 screws put in his face.
STEVE SMITH: Nobody wore that chip on the shoulder better than Steve Smith. He was so fierce, and was one of the top playmakers of his generation. He’d catch it, pivot the other direction and it would look like he was part of the field.
ANDRE JOHNSON: Some guys should simply be awarded in the category of “what was your level while you played”? Johnson was elite at his job. Three times he had 1, 500 plus yard seasons.
RECEIVERS THAT STILL DESERVE A LOOK:
Larry Fitzgerald will be a first ballot guy when he’s done. Guys like Antonio Brown can think ahead to how the yellow jacket may fit them. The game will continue to be full of volume passing totals. More receivers are getting in this long line to be recognized. Who else deserves to be on my list?
The New York Giants (2-9) have benched Eli Manning for the rest of the year to look at younger players. This has caused quite a stir, and a reason for everyone to judge Manning’s career. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, my job is to “hate” Eli. I truly have thought of his interceptions to put myself to sleep a few times. I can picture each pick, like cute little sheep.
From a family of football royalty, it comes across like Eli has always been fighting through shadows. He doesn’t have the skills his father had. The only time he has ever been better at football than his brother Peyton, is right now.
Who has ever thought of him as top three QB at any point? Top five? Bueller? This guy is very hard to rank among the best that ever played.
Manning has three seasons of disgusting interception totals (20, 25, and 27). He would turn the ball over and have this mopey expression that would annoy Giants fans to no end. I can see him unsnapping his chin strap to a chorus of New York boo birds as he walked to the sideline. Tiki Barber said he would follow a young Manning off the field yelling “posture matters”!
Eli is very good. He is tough, durable, smart, and above all clutch. Some will claim “Eli threw a couple lucky passes to win his two Super Bowls.” That’s garbage!
In the 2007 post season, he beat a Cowboys squad with 13 Pro Bowlers on the road. Number ten then out clutched Brett Favre in extreme temperature in Green Bay.
Manning then played a huge role in the biggest NFL upset of my lifetime. That Patriots team came in 18-0, and WOULD HAVE been considered the best single season team of all time.
Eli won a second ring and Super Bowl MVP a few years later. Let’s not under do that his teams beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady TWICE when it mattered most.
This guy is a class act. He will end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. First ballot? Probably not…Eli Manning a weird level of greatness.
Tony Romo leaves the game of football as one of its most polarizing characters. He was all time talented, and highly criticized. Some of the heat was fair because he and his teams did not win enough big games. He also could melt down with the best of them over his first seven seasons. Truth is, Romo’s overrated Cowboys teams helped him become the most underrated quarterback of his generation. While he had a handful of star level seasons, 2014 was his finest work. This was the best offensive team he ever played on. This effort was more than just Romo’s remarkable peak. You’ll soon agree it was one of the most efficient, clutch seasons in the 97 year history of the National Football League.
SETTING THE SCENE
Tony was coming into 2014 off his second back surgery in as many years. He was now 34 years old and his health was a major question mark for the first time in his career. He was held out of practice on Wednesday’s all year long. Dallas had the worst defense in the league the previous season. This Cowboys team was “expected” to win 7 games.
In the season opener at home I didn’t expect Romo to have his legs. He struggled to push the ball down the field. He threw three first half picks. The 49ers had their way with the Cowboys 28-17.
Week 2 at Tennessee. I thought Tony’s body looked stiff and his ball was coming out wobbly. He was like a shell of the young, spry athlete he once was. It went overlooked because Dallas won, number nine did not turn it over, and the ground game was elite.
Week 3 at St. Louis. After Romo throws a pick six late in the second quarter, It’s 21-3 Rams. In that moment, this season was looking very bleak for Tony and his team.
Week 8 vs the Redskins. Romo receives a knee in the back. The result was two fractured transverse process and a cracked rib. He comes back to play late in the game in an eventual Redskins victory. He misses the next week (28-17 loss to Arizona). He comes back 12 days later in a flak jacket.
(These are the three areas every QB is harshly judged in the ultimate team sport).
Romo was 12-3 as a starter. (League best winning percentage).
He was 8-0 on the road. (Fourth QB to accomplish this. Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, and Joe Montana did it twice).
With the NFC East crown at stake, the Colts were the Cowboys opponent. Romo was on fire, converting on 16 straight passes. He had 4 touchdown strikes in a 42-7 route. Tony finished 18-20. It was only the 24th time in NFL history a player completed 90 percent of his attempts.
Playoff game vs Detroit: The best defense in the league belonged to these Lions. They beat Tony down and sacked him six times. Detroit was up 20-7 with under three minutes left in the third quarter. Romo made multiple plays in crunch time and hit Terrance Williams for the game winner.
Playoff game at Green Bay: Tony goes 15-19 throwing the ball. With four plus minutes remaining, Dallas was down five points on the 33 yard line. The intense situation was fourth down and two. On an incredibly daring play, Romo threw a beautiful ball 35 yards down the field. He gave Dez Bryant the right opportunity. Things did not work out, and the Packers advanced to the NFC championship game.
The Cowboys faced a deficit in 13 of his 17 games.
Tony tied for a league high, five game winning drives.
He had a passer rating of 133.7 in December. The best mark of all time for the month.
His completion percentage in December was 74.8%, the second best mark ever for the month.
Over the last six games (4 reg season, 2 playoffs) his TD to pick ratio was 16/1.
When trailing, in the last four minutes of games…Romo was 11 of 15 passing. This included seven first downs, three touchdowns, and zero picks.
Look at where Romo finished in the following crucial categories:
Number one in passer rating (113.2). (Only six seasons have ever been better).
Number one in QBR (81.5).
Number one in completion percentage (69.9). (Only seven seasons have ever been better).
Number one in yards per attempt (8.5).
Number one in touchdown percentage. He threw a td pass on 7.8% of his throws.
Only player to ever have six games in a season with a rating over 135.0.
From week two of the season to the Cowboys second playoff game, Romo had 37 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.
NFC Offensive Player of the Month for December
He was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.
Named Second-Team All-Pro
Finished in third place for NFL Most Valuable Player (with teammate DeMarco Murray).
This was a competitive MVP race. Aaron Rodgers may be the most talented QB ever, and was a fine choice as the winner. JJ Watt was in his most dominant form. DeMarco was a beast, and helped muddy the voting waters. Tom Brady’s legend was also in the mix.
Tony didn’t sniff a Super Bowl ring. I think he will come up short of the Hall of Fame. He never got the credit for the heavy lifting he did for mostly average teams. He was a low-level star with issues, not the bum many painted him to be. There is a reason this QB himself, and his fans can be at peace. For an 18 game window in 2014, nobody on earth played professional football better than Tony Romo did. Respect that.
It was Sunday night, November 23rd 2014. The Dallas Cowboys had come to Metlife Stadium to take on their rival the New York Giants. Early in the second quarter Eli Manning threw a deep ball and what happened next was amazing. Beckham Jr. snagged the ball out of the air like Spider-Man. This 43 yard touchdown was better than spectacular. I remember appreciating it while being disgusted at the same time. It put the Giants up 14 to 3. This play is a big deal two years later. I think it deserves the hype, and remains one of the great catches I have ever seen in the NFL.
However, I’m a Cowboys fan.The Odell grab is so celebrated and replayed, It’s often used to mock Brandon Carr and the Dallas defense. Please remember how this contest ended. Tony Romo completed six straight passes on his teams final drive. Dez Bryant caught the go ahead score with a minute to play. Unbelievable catch Beckham. You are scary good. My biggest memory from that night was the final score. Cowboys 31 Giants 28.