A Tribute to the Character and Brilliance of Tony Romo

Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

On an unseasonably warm November afternoon in Dallas, Tony Romo showed character and class in passing the torch to Dak Prescott.

Ever since he took over for an ineffectual Drew Bledsoe on October 23, 2006, Tony Romo became a lightning rod in the DFW sports scene. This is not a difficult task. Assuming the mantle as the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys comes with its own set of rules. One doesn’t succeed the likes of Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, or Troy Aikman without a high standard already in place.

At the time, we had no idea what to expect. The honeymoon began quickly, though. Touchdowns and wins began to pile up. Consequently, most of us realized that the line of succession between him and Troy Aikman was simply a parade of clowns and has-beens. The Cowboys had lucked into a franchise quarterback in the form of an undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois University.

Of course, almost as quickly, another narrative emerged. Because the Cowboys are America’s Team, a lot of their games end up on national television. As a result, any time Romo committed a game-altering gaffe, most everyone saw it. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he developed an unfounded reputation as a choker who couldn’t perform in the clutch.

From my personal experience, this led to a lot of spirited barroom debates with haters and fans alike. The anti-Romo faction just wanted him gone, consequence be damned. To me, that argument was akin to a dog chasing a car: “Great. What are you going to do if you catch it?” More often than not, the thought process hadn’t gone that far. No one really ever had a great answer.

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Eventually, I grew weary of trying to shout the haters down. It became tantamount to a political argument. No one would give an inch. In fact, it often led to either side digging in and becoming more rigid in their stance. Suffice to say, Tony Romo was the most polarizing figure in recent DFW sports history, perhaps the most polarizing athlete this area has ever seen.

But love him or hate him, the simple fact of the matter is that he is a world class competitor. His ability to extend plays and keep his eyes downfield usually gave the Cowboys a chance to win on a given Sunday.

Through it all, he was the unfortunate recipient of poor planning by owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Seldom did Romo find himself surrounded with a quality team. In fact, in his tenure as quarterback, there have been only two legitimate chances for him to burnish his reputation. The first occurred in 2007. A 13-3 record resulted in a first round bye and the infamous Cabo trip prior to the divisional playoff game against the Giants. Romo didn’t have his best game, but the Cowboys were in position to win. A potential game-clinching pass was dropped by receiver Patrick Crayton. The Giants would go on to intercept Romo in the end zone on a last gasp drive and use that momentum to eventually win the Super Bowl.

Romo’s second real chance didn’t come until the 2014 season. Having rebuilt their offensive line, the Cowboys employed a punishing rushing attack. Finally, Romo didn’t have to win games by himself. It resulted in his finest year. He was playing the most complete, cerebral football of his career. Of course, it all ground to a maddening halt in Green Bay behind Dez Bryant‘s catch/non-catch. But the plan was in place. 2015 would surely be a continuation, right?

Well, not exactly. Romo got hurt early in the campaign, was rushed back too quickly, and got hurt again. A season that started so promisingly crumbled before it could really begin. The losses piled up and ended as an abject 4-12 disaster. Worse yet, the anxiety surrounding Romo’s health ramped up. Injuries were the rule now, not the exception. The hope was that a full offseason to heal would provide the elixir for another 2014-like run. In fact, when the Cowboys drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick, it was obvious that they were doubling down in an attempt to duplicate that blueprint.

Infuriatingly, that plan seemingly blew up in the hangar on August 25th. Romo, running to his left to avoid the pass rush, got crunched by the Seahawks’ Cliff Averil as he went into his slide. The sinking feeling we endured watching Tony writhe on the Seattle turf only got worse when we learned that a compression fracture in his back would sideline him for a minimum of six weeks.

At the time, it was easy to expect the worst. I mean, what was the possibility of having anything close to a successful season with a rookie quarterback? Sure, Dak Prescott had impressed in the preseason, but the NFL typically devours rookie quarterbacks. There was no reason to believe the Cowboys were destined to light the league on fire.

Of course, the exact opposite happened. Prescott immediately took control of this team. This was highlighted by a road win at Green Bay, and most recently, Sunday’s instant classic in Pittsburgh. The writing was on the wall and has been for weeks. As Dak piled up win after win, it became obvious to everyone that replacing him simply didn’t make sense.

Related Story: 5 Reasons Tony Romo Should Never Play for the Cowboys Again

Make no mistake, Tony saw it. Hell, we all did. So when he took the podium yesterday afternoon to symbolically pass the torch to the youngster, it wasn’t really a surprise. Above everything else, he’s been a class act during his tenure here. It is a testament to his character that he got out in front of any potential controversy so that he wouldn’t be a distraction. It was easy to see that he died a little inside yesterday. No athlete worth their salt ever wants to concede their place in the pecking order.

The bright side is that, for now, the Dallas Cowboys possess the best second string quarterback in the league. If Prescott gets hurt or plays poorly, the team’s prospects are very good. These are the good types of problems to have in the NFL. But with that said, it was very difficult to watch Tony read his prepared statement. It felt like a retirement speech. Moreover, it signified the end of an era.

The other silver lining is all the those memories. For so many occasions during his career, Tony Romo was the bailing wire and duct tape holding this mostly woebegone franchise together. His play exemplified the difference between irrelevance and playoff contention, year in and year out.

Next: Throwback: It's OK to Call Tony Romo Clutch

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It’s not supposed to end this way. It’s supposed to be on the post game dais, Lombardi trophy high in hand, backwards ballcap and that goofy, beady-eyed grin in tow. The Hollywood ending, however, is hardly ever a birthright. But given his undrafted roots, the Hollywood story was written long ago. Huzzah, Mr. Romo! It was a fantastic voyage. You are a class act and the ultimate team player.