I am starting to smell Autumn. Welcome back football. I saw my first NFL game in the early 1980’s. It’s not like I’ve seen all of NFL history in real-time. I’m trying to rank the 55 greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. By naming only 55 guys, I’ll be leaving off several elite players and champions.
There is no disputing that Terrell Owens is one of the most polarizing athletes of all time. He’s a guy that’s left us with a lot to talk about.
Here are my memories of the unforgettable T.O.
HE POSED ON THE TEXAS STADIUM STAR– It was the opening month of the 2000 NFL season. After catching a touchdown pass early in the game, San Francisco’s Owens ran to the middle of the Texas Stadium field to celebrate on the star. It was one of the most obnoxious things I’d ever seen. Dallas came back down the field, and Emmitt Smith plunged into the end zone. Emmitt headed to the same place in the center of the turf. He slammed the ball down, turned to the 49er side line and yelled, “this is our house!” I was actually more upset with Smith than Owens. Instead of being proud of Emmitt’s retaliation, I felt like he was adding to a weird circus. I also knew the Cowboys were over matched on this Sunday, and better be quiet. Late in the game, Owens scored again. He ran back to the middle of the field. This time he was greeted by Dallas safety George Teague, who shoved him off the spot. Terrell made sure and got in the pose like he had intended. At that point, T.O. was public enemy number one to Cowboys fans.
HIS PEAK AS AN EAGLE– The Owens, Donovan McNabb thing ended horribly. Before that, Owens peak as a Philadelphia Eagle was something to behold. Terrell’s physical attributes were on full display. His explosion off the line of scrimmage is unmatched to this day. His football IQ, dominance, and his ability to play winning ball were all melting in harmony. His Super Bowl performance, coming off an injury was likely his most impressive feat as professional.
THE SAYING “81 ON A MISSION”– A short time later, Owens became a Dallas Cowboy. Naturally, he was easy to hate until he put on my favorite teams jersey. I then put his jersey on my back. There is a sports hypocrite in all of us. Early in his journey on one of his sound bites, T.O. said the following: “They say Randy Moss is Mr. Clutch? They better look again…81 on a mission!” That saying took over mine and my buddy Jon Brown’s life. It wasn’t just something we said when Owens made a play. We said it for everything. I just woke up, “81 on a mission”. I just got groceries, “81 on a mission.” When we saw Terrell before a 2008 game, you can guess what we yelled to him in unison… “81 on a mission!”
A TIMELY CHANT FROM THE CROWD– October 5th, 2008. The Cincinnati Bengals were in Dallas to play the Cowboys. It was a competitive game. I was in the stands with Jon Brown, Anthony Mower, Tyler and Randall Pettit. Late in the third quarter this fan in front of us starting chanting “T.O… T.O…T.O…” It was a little random. The fourth quarter started and it was obvious what Dallas needed WAS a play from Owens. There was twelve minutes left in the fourth quarter. I decided the annoying guy was right. If you can’t beat em, join em. As loud as we could we chanted “T.O… T.O….” I’d guess we got about 600 people to join us during a time out. On the very next play, Owens caught a 57 yard TD pass from Tony Romo. Dallas eventually won the game, True or not, we felt like we did our part.
A SAYING THAT I TOOK TO HEART– On his episode of “A Football Life” T.O. said one of the coolest things ever. “You got to stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready.” I love it, and try to live it.
EVEN WHEN HE WAS SINCERE, HE WAS CRITICIZED– January 13th, 2008. The 13-3 Cowboys lost a playoff game against the eventual world champion New York Giants. Owens felt Romo was the one being blamed. In a sincere, tear filled defense T.O. said, “You can point the finger at him. You can talk about the vacation. If you do, it’s really unfair. That’s my teammate. That’s my quarterback. If you do that, that’s unfair. We lost as a team.” I thought that was the most genuine moment of his NFL life. Instead of getting credit for his team first attitude, Owens has been clowned for it ever since.
NOT ATTENDING HIS OWN HALL OF FAME ENSHRINEMENT– Everyone knows Terrell Owens is a Hall of Fame player. It’s not about the incredible numbers. It was about his level. He was a work ethic guy, and a bionic force. I’m a Hall of Fame nerd. I love the process, the arguments, and the induction speeches that come along with it. I’m very disappointed that Owens has decided to not go to Canton Ohio this August. He will speak at his alma mater, The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This has been scheduled on the same day (August 4th) that the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be conducting their ceremony.
I thought Owens should have been elected into the Hall in his first or second year of eligibility. When year three came, he was voted in. He has the right to be mad, and to not show up in Canton. Owens told Eric Dickerson last week he would have attended if he made it on the first ballot. There have been many players near Owens level who had to wait much longer. The process is flawed. Cris Carter put it, “he thinks his tears are more important than the other guys.”
I reached out to a mentor, Derrick Pearson a couple of weeks ago to rant. DP said to me, “So, you are sensitive that he is sensitive?” That comment threw me off. I then said, “yes. If I’m sensitive about his choices, I get Owens is someone who has made it in life.” Terrell is one of the most important characters in the games history. He has the right to do what he wants, and I have the right to be bugged by it. What he says next month matters. I want his Hall of Fame peers to know he DOES respect them. This is not a daring, pioneer like move by Terrell by skipping out. He felt insulted by having to wait for this honor. Perception wise, this cements T.O. as the greatest individual, in a sport built on the idea of team.
The only offended people that should matter, are those that have gold jackets themselves. It’s like Terrell gets one more game this August. I bet he says some things that help me see his side of things. The selfish fan in me, wishes he would celebrate with the class of 2018. On a day he will be king of a league he dominated, he could be starring on their stage one more time. Terrell Owens will live in the Pro Football Hall of Fame forever. I wanted to see him there on the day he gets the keys to the place.
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 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 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.