Ode to Romo: A Tribute to a Legend
I started watching football regularly when (because) Tony Romo came in as the starter of the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in 2006. Through all the ups and downs, comeback victories, crushing defeats and everything in between, Romo has always been as classy and professional a player as you can hope to have as the face of the franchise and your favorite team.
His constant critics and doubters have given him far too little of the credit when things went well, and far too much of the blame when things weren't. Through it all, an undrafted QB out of Eastern Illinois, one who never should've even made it to this level, has never let any of the talk get to him, and it shows in how competitive and successful he has been in his career.
As he transitioned from a gunslingin’ youngster to a respected veteran leader of the team, Romo began putting up some of the best seasons of his career, including that magical playoff run in 2014 that ended with heartbreak.
Once again, Romo let none of the critics get to him. As he started to miss time due to various ailments, including 12 missed games in 2015, where the team went 1-11 without him, media pundits and fans began to suggest that Romo retire. Meanwhile, many failed to realize the true value that Romo brought to the team while in the starting lineup. As an elite quarterback playing for one of the most prestigious franchises in professional sports, Romo showed an unbelievable mastering of handling the spotlight of being the face of America's team.
As the team prepared for another run at Super Bowl contention coming off a disastrous 4-12 campaign, fans counted on Romo and the return of a power run game to bring the Cowboys back to the top of the NFC. In the Cowboys' "dress rehearsal" preseason game against Seattle, the hopes of fans quickly collapsed, as Romo himself collapsed on the turf in agony after suffering another back injury.
Originally believed to be a minor injury, fans and prognosticators quickly started running numbers to see if the Cowboys could remain in contention while Romo was sidelined. As his timetable shifted from 2-3 weeks to the now 12 weeks since Romo was helped off the football field, the hopes of the team fell flat, and some questioned whether another losing season was in the works.
While his timetable took unexpected turns, so too did the team's fortunes. As a 4th-round rookie was inserted into the starting QB position, the team began their season with a last second loss against the rival New York Giants. Since that September 11th loss, the Cowboys haven't lost a game, and have turned into an NFC powerhouse, and a likely favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
As the team extended their winning streak, many started wondering whether the Cowboys should turn back to Romo, and the quarterback debate heard 'round the world evolved into an otherworldly one. As Romo inched closer to returning, and returned to practice, the debate grew louder, and the team flexed their muscles by winning traditionally tough games against Green Bay, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.
What first started as the organization calling this "Tony's team", turned into a QB Competition being played by ear. Rather than gear up for weeks and possibly months more of speculation and distractions during a potential run to the Super Bowl, Tony Romo decided to give one more unappreciated gift to the Franchise, to the fans, and to Dak Prescott.
Speaking to the media for the first time since his injury, many expected Romo to answer questions about his battle for the starting job and his thoughts during the last couple of months while this situation has transpired.
Rather than answer leading questions about where the team and the QB depth chart stands going forward, Romo stepped up to a crowded conference room at The Star and decided to read a prepared statement.
Instead of giving the team a brutal decision to make that could divide the team and disrupt a potentially magic season, Romo fell on the proverbial sword, as he has done for far too often of his career, and conceded the starting quarterback job to Dak Prescott. Prescott, who has taken the job and had immediate success so surprising, that fans went from begging to have Romo back, to begging Romo to never come back, now doesn't have to worry about looking over his shoulder.
Now, the team doesn't have to worry about ruffling feathers of the players, fans, coaches, and management. Because of Romo's innate intelligence, and his gracious class and reverence for winning, he decided not to interfere with disrupting the chemistry of "his team." Now, Romo will watch the Cowboys play from the sideline with a headset, helping give Prescott some veteran leadership and advice needed in a potentially long season.
As the team transitions from one era of Cowboys' football to another, and this is truly a monumental shift in Cowboys' football, there are many unknowns of what the future holds for the team, Dak Prescott, and Tony Romo. One thing however should be crystal clear to all who have watched this team for at least the last decade. That fact is that Romo has been the perfect face of the franchise that this team needed, but didn't deserve.
Now, number 9 won't get a chance to prove his remaining doubters wrong, as he didn't bring the championship back to Dallas during his tenure, to which some believe is the only signal of success. To those who truly understand, in Romo's words, "the pure ecstasy that comes from competing and winning", we say thank you.
Thank you, Tony, for being the Savior of a lost franchise in the post-Aikman era. Thank you, Tony, for never ceasing to strive to bring a Lombardi trophy back to Dallas. Thank you, Tony, for carrying a sometimes crippled, underperforming team on your back for too long, and never using the difficult circumstances as an excuse. Thank you, Tony, for sacrificing your body, mind, and soul to the game and to people who don't give you your due praise. Thank you, Tony, for being so selfless as a star of the game as to being able to nobly remove himself from the equation of this season's team. Thank you, Tony, for being a class citizen of Dallas, which has too often disregarded all the tremendous work you do in the community for people who you don't even know. Thank you for all the things that you've done for the team, us fans, and followers of your career, that we don't even know you've done.
But personally, thank you Tony, for being the reason that I love following the game of football, the Dallas Cowboys, and your career. Thank you for bringing me and my family joy every Fall, for all the plays that left defensive coordinators across the league speechless. Thank you for being a role model for me of what being a professional should look like. Thank you for being the ultimate representation of what class, toughness, and determination looks like. Thank you for never turning into that diva that Coach Parcells was concerned could happen to a youngster in the spotlight of Big D.
Thank you for giving those who think their goals can't be achieved a reason to fight. Back in 2014, the team's mantra for the season was "fight" and "finish the fight". As you have done your entire career, you were a perfect illustration of what showing fight and perseverance was all about. Now, as you face a career crossroads, I ask that you fight. Fight like you have fought your entire career. Whether your future lies with the Cowboys, another team, or in another aspect of life entirely, I will continue to root for you. I will continue to proudly wear that no. 9 jersey, and hope to tell my future children and grandchildren about one of the most inspiring players to ever play the game. For that, I say thank you.
Jared Wingate is a local Dallas resident who is passionate about 'dem Cowboys! He is also a Broadcast Journalism major. Subscribe and follow him on Twitter @wingate_jared.