By Jason Keidel
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When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, no fan rides the fence. You either love or loathe America’s Team. Likewise, you either think Tony Romo is a vastly overrated or underrated player. So since he’s now leaving the league that made him famous, it’s time to throw down on Romo’s legacy.
And there’s nothing overrated about him.
Romo would be a Hall of Famer if he had a Super Bowl ring. He has the most touchdown passes (248) in franchise history, a history that includes Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. Romo has more passing yards (34,183) than any QB in club history. Romo has the fourth-highest passer rating in NFL history. Since 2006, no quarterback has more fourth quarter/overtime comebacks than Romo (27). More than either Manning. More than Brady. More than Rodgers or Big Ben.
Romo is joining CBS, evidently to team with Jim Nantz, replacing Phil Simms as the network’s No. 1 commentary team.
Of course, this isn’t about the chance to join Nantz, no matter how classy or competent the announcer is. This is about the aggregate injuries that led the media and masses to know more about Romo’s skeletal structure than our own. Between rib, shoulder and back injuries, Romo was spending way more time on the sideline than in the huddle. He became a living version of the old board game “Operation.”
We place such a premium on victory, particularly for quarterbacks, blinding us to the nuances of the game, as if the quarterback singularly controls all outcomes or are masters of all variables. But Romo wasn’t responsible for all the porous defenses the Cowboys cobbled together for years. Between 2006 and 2014, Romo was fortified by one top-10 defense. In five years, the Dallas D ranked 20th or lower.
Nor was it Romo’s fault that his pristine pass to Dez Bryant was called an incompletion, when we all saw Bryant catch that ball on the Frozen Trundra in the playoffs a couple years back. Shortly after that game, Romo lamented the play for obvious reasons, but also because he knew how precious those moments are. And he never got back there.
But Romo wore that star on his helmet, and wore it under center. And there are certain singular franchises and certain singular positions, such as center fielder for the Yankees, heavyweight champion, and quarterback of the Cowboys, that elevate an athlete above normal metrics. And unlike Staubach and Aikman, who won multiple Super Bowls, Romo never even played in one. So he is seen as a failure.
The Falcons’ Matt Ryan just lorded over the largest blown lead in Super Bowl history, yet no one is piling on the QB whose sobriquet is “Matty Ice.” Had Romo done the same, as a Cowboy, he’d never shed the handle as a choke artist. Just botching a field goal snap in a playoff game has hounded and haunted him for a decade.
Romo is, by all accounts, a modest man, a team guy and a good guy. He set records playing for the most valuable sports franchise on earth, and did it with atypical class. But in our rush to assign legacies, we brand Romo a middle-tier player when he was clearly a top-tier quarterback.
And perhaps as important as any bump, bruise or surgery, Romo got a hard whiff of the dark business underbelly of football. For all th talk that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones sees Romo as his surrogate son, he didn’t exactly treat him like one. Why didn’t Dallas just release him a month ago, giving him carte blanche to speak with the several suitors out there? Why keep him on the roster in hopes that Denver or Houston will cough up a low-end draft pick for their iconic, beloved leader? As good a player as Romo has been, no one is going to trade resources for someone turning 37 in two weeks with his litany of injuries.
Romo, a really good quarterback for a long time, discovered that everyone is expendable. And he decided it was better to be wanted by CBS than wonder who wants him in the NFL.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel