Cowboys fans owe Tony Romo more than they realize

Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo's legacy should be more about his accomplishments than his failures. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo's legacy should be more about his accomplishments than his failures. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The career of Tony Romo has had its ups and downs, but his legacy with the Dallas Cowboys is among the greats.

There aren’t many Dallas Cowboys fans that saw it all going this way for Tony Romo. Entering the National Football League in 2003 as an undrafted rookie, the chips were stacked against him. With third year quarterback and starter Quincy Carter in front of him, his early career received little fanfare.

Making the team

Romo had an uphill battle ahead. Carter was supposed to be the future for the Cowboys. In fact, in Romo’s rookie season, Quincy helped Dallas finish the season 10-6 and ended a three year playoff drought. Tony never saw the field during that regular season and the outlook for 2004 didn’t look much better. But then, Carter failed a drug test and found himself looking for employment.

Two weeks later, Romo put together a very nice game-winning drive in week two of the preseason against the Oakland Raiders. Having broken camp as the team’s number four quarterback and finding his roster slot in jeopardy, head coach Bill Parcells made the rare decision to keep three signal-callers on the roster, keeping Romo’s hopes alive.

Making a name

At the time of his emergence, a popular rib joint had made its way to Dallas-Fort Worth. Texas Radio Hall of Famer and Cowboys play-by-play man Brad Sham actually referenced the restaurant on more than one occasion during preseason games. And honestly, had it not been for that similarity between his name and the restaurant’s, he would have been pretty forgettable at the time.

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But as luck would have it for Romo, Dallas had an unsuccessful run of starting quarterbacks in the ’04 and ’05 seasons. Veteran Vinny Testaverde and Drew Henson combined for a 6-10 record in ’04 and then Drew Bledsoe took over the following season. Under Bledsoe, the Cowboys went 9-7, just missing the playoffs. The following season, Romo got his opportunity.

On October 15, 2006, with a win over the Houston Texans all but sealed and 5:16 left in the game, Parcells called on Romo. It was the middle of a drive and Dallas held a secure 27-6 lead when Bledsoe was suddenly sent to the bench.

While at first glance, it seemed like a move for the sake of resting Bledsoe, it might have been Romo’s first real audition. He handed the ball off a few times to running back Tyson Thompson to chew some clock. But those plays went nowhere and he faced a 3rd and 9 from the Houston 36.

What came next foreshadowed exactly what Romo was all about. He dropped back, looked to his left and unleashed a beautiful deep ball down the sideline to wide receiver Sam Hurd for a 33-yard completion and a first and goal from the three yard line. In typical Romo fashion, he took a hard hit as he released, got right up and celebrated the play.

Two plays later, he faked right and rolled left to hit receiver Terrell Owens for his first of many touchdown passes in his career.

One week later on Monday Night Football, with the New York Giants leading at halftime, Parcells would pull Bledsoe out again. This time, in the locker room at the half. While Dallas lost that one, Romo had a solid two quarter performance, going 14/25 for 227 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. From there, the team was Tony’s and at that point, people knew his name.

From there, the Cowboys went 6-4 to finish 9-7 for the second time. But this time, they made the playoffs a Wild Card team.

Making a reputation

It all started with that Wild Card game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. In a back-and-forth battle, Romo tossed for 189 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But that bus-driver effort was not what he became known for. Instead, a botched long snap on a potential go-ahead 19-yard field goal that earned him “goat” status for the season.

Images of him botching the hold, taking the ball at the nine and running it to the two and getting tackled short looped throughout the offseason.

During the regular season, Romo became spectacular. The very next season, he broke the Cowboys record for passing yards in a season with 4,211 with 36 touchdown passes. The Cowboys ended the regular season at 13-3 with a first round bye. Yet, the 19 interceptions he threw that season drew more ire from fans than praises. Then, losing in the Divisional Playoff game against the Giants just added fuel to the fire.

Related Story: Why Romo shouldn't play for the Cowboys again

Phrases like “choke artist,” and “can’t perform in the clutch” became the battle cry of those that didn’t like Tony. He took the blame for the disappointing playoff exit of 2007 because fans just plain, didn’t like him. They seriously would write letters to editors to sound off on their nonsense, too!

They’d blame the way he wears his hat, his smirk, or what he did on a bye week. By the way, speaking of Cabo, it’s fascinating that Jason Witten never received the same criticism for being there on vacation with Romo at the time. But as the ol’ saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.”

Making changes

Despite how ridiculous some of those arguments sounded, Romo made the changes everyone asked for anyway. He matured. No, it’s ridiculous to assume that any of those aforementioned reasons for his failures were actually legitimate. But he figured out the importance of his perception to the fans. Cowboys fans take perception very seriously.

That’s why guys like Tom Landry and his stoic profile, Roger Staubach and his clean-shaven look, Troy Aikman and his steely glare, and Michael Irvin with his constant gameface are such highly-revered men among the Cowboys faithful. The list goes on, but those guys are just a few.

So, to appease the fans and to make sure everyone liked him, Tony turned his hat around and stopped going on lavish vacations during the season. He stopped the extraneous golf and even settled down and started a family. Ironically, that ultimately led to his first playoff win.

Making a legacy

Tony Romo did finally get over the playoff hump with a win in 2010 over the Philadelphia Eagles. Things didn’t go so well the following week in Minneapolis, but he moved on and so did the Cowboys.

Don’t let his 2-4 career playoff record fool you. Honestly, wins and losses shouldn’t define a quarterback. In fact, had the Dez Bryant catch/no catch controversy from 2014 gone the other way, then Romo’s playoff record could have been 3-3 at that point with potentially more wins to come that season. But the point still stands, don’t let his losses define his career.

For crying out loud, just look back at the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos in 2013. Romo received the brunt of the blame, despite his 506 yards , five touchdown passes and one interception. When you lose 51-48, the quarterback is not the problem.

If Romo’s career as a Dallas Cowboy ends after this season, he will leave behind an amazing list of accomplishments. He will leave as the all-time Cowboys leader (among qualifiers) in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown passes, touchdown percentage, lowest interception percentage , most yards per attempt, passing yards per game, passer rating, fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. That’s not too shabby.

Next: A Tony Romo Tribute

The Cowboys were blessed to have Romo leading the offense over the past decade. He and Witten have been the only consistent pieces to this thing during that time. When looking back at Tony Romo’s career, don’t focus on what he didn’t do. Focus on what he accomplished. Sure, there have been really difficult times over that span as Cowboys fans. But in the end, just remember that it could have always been worse . . . much worse. You could have been Cleveland Browns fans. And that, well, that’s just insufferable.