When Dallas lost to Arizona last week after a rather dismal performance by backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, I overheard someone out here disparaging Tony Romo—apparently not realizing that Romo didn’t even play. Romo has become the favorite whipping boy for the Cowboys’ failure to emulate past successes (I find this kind of thing of curious, since the Packers managed to survive a quarter century of irrelevance post-Lombardi until the Favre-Rodgers Era). Despite the fact that the Cowboys’ offense has never prospered more under the quarterbacking of Romo, people tend to forget that Dallas has had only two top-ten defense in the past 15 years (once in the Romo era). Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, however, is a Romo “fan,” and he had enough of Weeden after one week, and a Romo with two cracked bones in his back (after just coming off back surgery) was still good enough to beat a hapless or not Jacksonville team in London.
All the demeaning spewed on Romo seems more than a little despicable, considering all the hurdles he has had to jump over in his life dating from high school. Playing in tiny Burlington, Wisconsin, his high school junior varsity coach decided to take him “down a notch” and caused him to injure his finger during a practice session. Romo was demoted to third-string, and after the first and second-string quarterbacks threw for a combined 12 yards in the team’s opening game shutout loss in 1996, Romo—who had never played an official organized football game before—threw for 308 yards passing in his first game. But despite the fact he was all-state after his senior year, no Division I-A college wanted some quarterback from small town USA with no media support. After passing on scholarship offers from Division III schools, Romo accepted a partial scholarship from Division1-AA Eastern Illinois, where he won that division’ s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy as a senior.
Yet he went undrafted despite his undeniable talent, being obliged to accept a rookie free agent tryout with the Cowboys. Yet while other quarterbacks of inferior talent but playing for “big time” schools were being drafted in the first round and mostly turning out to be big time busts, Romo sat on the bench for three-and a half seasons until he got his chance. And until this season, Romo’s play was virtually the only reason why the Cowboys remained “relevant.” Yet because the Cowboys have not been repeating the successes of the past when they had whole rosters of Hall of Fame players, Romo has been blamed for these failures. One recalls the game against Peyton Manning and Denver when it was Romo who kept the game close by throwing for 506 yards on just 36 pass attempts, and leading the Cowboys to 48 points. Yet what do people remember? An interception late in the game, not the fact that the Cowboys’ defense couldn’t hold the Broncos to 47 points or less. That has been the “story” of Romo’s “failure.”
Surprisingly for a team that had Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, Romo holds almost every team passing record by a wide margin despite his late start. Yet unlike the Geno Smiths of the world who have been given every opportunity to fail miserably, Romo has had to work for everything he has; but the lack of a Super Bowl appearance has branded him a “failure” by those who begrudge him of what he has achieved.