I never thought I’d say this but… poor Tony Romo. The guy who has laid his body on the line for his franchise, always been a company man, and stemmed the tide of disastrous Cowboys quarterbacks is getting a raw deal.
There were already whispers of preseason sensation Dak Prescott being ready to take over the starting job if Romo went down at some point this year. But once Cliff Avril awkwardly yanked him from behind last night, you could already sense what was in the air. A call for a quarterback overthrow by an aggressive portion of the fan base wanting a fresh face and a new start.
There’s no doubt Prescott has looked dazzling at times this preseason. His legs are exciting, and his impromptu playmaking is reminiscent of a young Romo. Prescott seems to have total comfort in the situation, even if he’s still far from a finished product. The Cowboys may have gotten one of the steals of the draft, since Dak wasn’t supposed to drop to the fourth round. He had led Mississippi State to glorious heights in his final two seasons at Starkville. He was popular, charismatic, successful, a natural leader, and a coach’s dream.
But a DUI in the weeks leading up to the draft scared away teams. A quarterback doing something that dumb? Well, that was indicative of poor decision making, right? Except with one invalid breathalyzer sample and another insufficient one, Prescott was eventually found not guilty in court a month ago. Dak is now looking like a brilliant rising stock.
But it’s not his time yet. And fans should realize that. Cowboys fans are often mocked for their delusions of grandeur. Huge swaths of the fan base (in Texas and across the nation) merely adopted the team because they were consistently good. Whether it was the ’60s and ’70s, the first half of the ’80s, or the dynasty in the ’90s, if you grew up in a time when Dallas was playing for Lombardi Trophies, you expect it to happen again. And there’s the rub for Romo.
He’s not Staubach. He’s not Aikman. He hasn’t brought home one of the five Super Bowl rings in franchise history. But he’s also not Don Meredith or Danny White. Dandy Don took the Cowboys to consecutive NFL Championship Games and lost to the legendary Packers (once in the Ice Bowl). White had three 12-win seasons in four years and led them to the NFC Championship Game three January’s in a row. Those guys were always deep in the playoffs.
Romo? He’s been the face of a franchise that’s been the definition of heavy turmoil and middling results for nearly two decades. The Cowboys have been alternatingly excellent (13-3 in ’07, 12-4 in ’14) and mediocre (three straight .500 campaigns) with Romo. He hasn’t had playoff success. He’s never played past the divisional round, he’s just 2-4 in the postseason and one of those wins was a gift from the officiating gods when the Lions were called for the Phantom Flag two years ago. Then again, Romo has an 8-2 TD-INT rate in those games, although never a 300-yard game.
The enduring image of Romo is coming up short in all those “Week 17 win-and-in” games on national TV. Or worse – limping off the field with yet another injury. He’s been sidelined with everything from a sprained shoulder, fractured collarbone, and a herniated disc. He’s had finger, hand and lower back injuries. It’s now become a punchline: predict the week Tony Romo gets hurt.
And that’s why none of this is quite fair to Romo (even though he has to take his share of blame for underwhelming big game performances). He’s been the public pinata for an era of Cowboys mediocrity that’s primarily due to Jerry’s boneheaded personnel decisions. The owner craves attention, even at the detriment of the team’s success. And the joke of an oil tycoon and business maven being the architect of an NFL roster continues to this day (although Jerry has finally ceded much of that control after so many embarrassments). Imagine Drew Brees playing the prime of his career as Tom Benson tried to build the team? Or Jameis Winston throwing to guys the Glazer kids personally chose? Now imagine Benson and the Glazers being as loopy and attention-addicted as Jerry, and how would the odds stack against their teams even more?
Dallas fans are hungry for a solid team after years of tumult and soap operas. They see a fresh face, one that is exciting and fun, and want more of it. And the veteran guy who’s been there has been taking the bullets for the crazy old man is the sacrificial lamb. Undoubtedly a chunk of the Cowboys fan base was kinda excited to see Romo go down last night because maybe that meant it was Dak’s time, the same way it was Brady’s time when Mo Lewis knocked the spleen out of Drew Bledsoe once upon a time. But the frustration of Cowboys fans shouldn’t come down on Romo, because he doesn’t deserve to be mopped away like this.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.