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.
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.
In 2008 Tony Romo was at his “most prolific and probably most athletic.” In 2009 he had his best season in the most “traditional sense”.” The 2013 version of Romo was “the best the player has been so far.” You have to consider the money he had recently been paid, the criticism he got for it, and the new level of responsibility he would take on. In part because of a league high number of injuries to defensive lineman, the 2013 Cowboys were mostly bad on defense. Against the pass, this unit bled yards on a historical level. Tony was great this year! By “great” I mean he beyond did his part for his team, and even without a playoff birth was a top seven or eight NFL quarterback. Romo was way more clutch than not, but the story will come out different. He will once again get the blame because of a few reasons. It’s a quarterbacks league, his past mistakes, and mostly his high-profile team leads to him getting attention but constantly snubbed of credit. He also gave his critics two unforgettable games where his “Romo blunders” cost his football team the game or at least a chance.
Did you see Romo throw two late picks against Green Bay to help the Cowboys finish blowing a 26 to 3 lead this last December? I know you did. All of you couldn’t stop talking about it. It was a big game. It was being shown in a prime spot. Then there was the classic at home against the Denver Broncos. Romo put on a clinic that day. His 506 yards passing and five touchdowns were a product of his all time great pocket awareness, and escapeability. He led the Cowboys to a 48 point tie late in the game. With a chance to win, Tony threw the ball to the Broncos who came out on top 51 to 48. It was a cruel, almost fitting dagger. It pains me to admit that game is probably the best 60 minute nut shell example of how most fans view Tony Romo.
The next morning Michael Smith of ESPN said, “You know we always say the quarterback gets too much credit when he wins and too much blame when he loses? As far as his critics go, Tony Romo is the ONLY quarterback I’ve seen that gets NONE of the credit when Dallas wins, and ALL of the blame when they lose.”
Romo always gets his numbers. This time around brought 3,828 yards passing while completing 64% of his attempts. The 31 touchdowns ranked second in the NFC, and the 10 interceptions were pretty elite for a player known for turnovers. He fumbled a career low four times (one lost). Tony threw away balls at the right time, and took smart sacks. He was 8 and 7 as a starter, but 5 and 0 in the most crucial division games. He now has more yards and completions than any QB in NFL history through their first 100 starts.
Avid Sportsman Tony Abbott is never shy or dishonest about his Romo opinions. On five different occasions this year in the middle of down to the wire Cowboys games, Abbott proclaimed “the SEASON was on #9 right here”. He was not putting just each of these games is on one guy, he was saying the entire temperature and direction of the franchise right now, is on Romo. Lets look at the five contests.
November 3rd VS Minnesota Vikings: The Cowboys were coming off a one point horror show loss at Detroit. They were 4 and 4 and could not afford to lose this ballgame. Dallas was down three points to the Vikings with 2:44 left in regulation. The Cowboys had the ball on their own 10 yard line. Romo and his right arm accounted for all 90 yards that ended with a go ahead touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining. Other than winning, I really enjoyed knowing my South Dakota family members/Vikings fans watched the same thing I did.
November 24th at New York Giants: New York had won four in a row and talked ridiculous trash all week. The temperature was 22 degrees and the wind 27 mph. Dallas let go of a 21 to 6 third quarter lead. They found themselves tied at 21, with the ball on their own 20 yard line, with 4:45 left in the game. In methodical fashion, Tony led the Cowboys on a 16 play drive. He spread the ball around, he needled the Giants to death and made them look worse the bigger the play became. Dan Bailey knocked in a close range field goal to win the game. This kept the Cowboys season alive, and essentially knocked the Giants out.
November 28th VS OAKLAND RAIDERS: This game was an uphill climb from the opening play. The Cowboys first kick return attempt became a fumble and a Raiders score. Oakland led 21 to 7 with under two minutes remaining in the first half. Tony completed five straight passes to set up a short running touchdown. In half number two, Romo completed all 12 of his passes and led the team to a 31 to 24 victory.
December 15th VS Green Bay: I mentioned this game is where the focus will stay. Tony was having a good day helping Dallas build a 23 point half time lead. He also threw a clutch TD to Dez mid way through the fourth quarter as the Packers mounted a furious comeback. The qb then put the cherry on the collapse by throwing two late picks. The first INT was extra bad. The kind of play you want to pretend didn’t happen. The Packers played good, but this was one of the most embarrassing losses in franchise history.
December 22nd at Washington Redskins: As things ended up playing out, the Cowboys had to win this game to keep the season alive and to set up an NFC East title game with the Eagles. Dallas was down nine points at the beginning of the last quarter. Romo hurt his back and was experiencing shocking pains down his legs. He decided to put on another display of bad ass clutch play. The stand out plays were a fourth down and six completed for 20 yards to Cole Beasley, and a scramble then 51 yard hurl to Terrance Williams. The Boys failed to punch in the football on three straight running plays. It was fourth down and the year from the 10 yard line. Tony showed off his footwork and patience as he hit DeMarco Murray for a game winning touchdown pass and the best moment for the Cowboys in 2013.
I have to mention it: October 20th at Philly in a one score game late in the third quarter, after throwing a bad interception..Tony leads a drive where he completes seven out of eight passes for 69 yards. In the process he converts five first downs and a slant pattern for a score to put Dallas up 17 to 3 where the score would stay.
Abbott is a smart guy who does not think that Romo is as good as I do. I had to note, that Romo delivered enormous clutch plays and succeeded in 80% of those challenges put out there.
The night after the Redskins win on “NFL Gameday Final” Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk said, “If you really pay attention to it, the Cowboys constantly are in the position that Tony Romo HAS to make a play. Your team is built to have one guy have to constantly make or break the game. That is why Tony Romo is always in the hot seat.”
Everyone jumped head first in how and why Romo changed a key play late against Green Bay to a pass. Did anyone mention ANY of the plays he changed in ANY of his clutch moments? They did not. After Tony sacrificed his body and sold out in the pressure at Washington to give Dallas a chance did anyone take a breath to celebrate it? They did not. What I heard instead was, “If Kyle Orton plays good next week it will make Romo look so Bad.” I also loved the “Romo would have choked against Philly” card. He could have easily thrown a pass to cost Dallas the East. Without his pressure packed performances, the Cowboys would have never been there.
Romo has a lot to prove to be a truly great NFL player.That doesn’t mean I’m not tired of him playing like the low-level star he is, and getting the respect of an overpaid backup.