It never ends pretty in the NFL, or in most sports, even for the best players. So, naturally, it didn’t end pretty for Tony Romo and his 14 years in Dallas.
To be fair, though, it didn’t start pretty … yet it went up from there.
Not as far up as the twin legends at one of the most prestigious (and pressure-packed) positions in professional sports, quarterback of the Cowboys. But for Romo to even be mentioned in the same breath asRoger Staubach and Troy Aikmanis as grand an accomplishment for whichan undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois could ever wish.
Between being signed by the Cowboys after the 2003 draft, to riding the bench for 3 1/2 years, to the dramatic takeover on a Monday night in 2006 when Bill Parcels benched Drew Bledsoe … to being eclipsed himself by a youngster emerging out of nowhere last season, Romo’s career arc bore no resemblance to any of his storied predecessors. Not Staubach, Aikman, Danny White,or anyone before or after them.
None of them threw for as many yards (34,183) or touchdowns (248) as Cowboys as Romo did. His career passer rating puts them all in the dust (at 97.1, only Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady are aheadall-time). So do his lifetime fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.
For all the years the Cowboys bumbled about at or around .500, Romo is credited for nearly as many regular-season wins (78) as Staubach (85) … and he wasn’t exactly surrounded by the Tony Dorsetts, Drew Pearsons and Bob Hayeses of the league at the time.
He also played for three coaches — including Parcells, of course, but also Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett. As Cowboys, none of them were Tom Landry or Jimmy Johnson. The weight for the trajectory of the Cowboys and Romo over the years rests on them, too. And none deserve more weight than the man who oversaw it all, including the clumsy end of Romo’s tenure in Dallas: Jerry Jones.
Both Romo’s fans and his detractors are going to remember him for his toughness, the injuries he bounced back from, the ones he buckled down to overcome, the hits he took that could be felt all over the stadium … even the ones that did him in for long stretches and made them question if he’d ever be lucky enough to not have to endure them so often.
And in between all of that were the reasons he had huge swarms of both fans and detractors.
Speaking of not starting pretty … there was that first playoff game of his life, in 2006against Seattle. The bobbled extra-point snap. His sympathizers figured that shouldn’t have to stick to him his entire career. Eleven years later, well …
There were the picks. In the regular season. In the big games. In the fourth quarter. With the playoffs on the line. With another round of the playoffs at stake. The Giants. The Broncos. The Eagles. Washington. Each more painful than the last, each piling atop the other, missed chance after missed chance — and renewed fodder for an argument about exactly what kind of quarterback Romo was.
It really wasn’t forever before the Cowboys won a playoff game on his watch: just his fourth season as a starter, in 2009. That stuck to him for a while, too. His second didn’t come until five years after that, for various reasons, which caused what became the annual dilemma: He was there, but it shouldn’t be put on his shoulders, yet … that was his team.
Yet, with all that, how hard could anyone come down on himwhen he played with a collapsed lung, with a herniated disk orwith broken bones in his back? He broke fingers, ribs, vertebrae and that collarbone, multiple times.
There’s no shortage of photos of him curled up on the turf in pain over the years — or of him managing to get back out there later in the game, the seasonor the next season. Playing like his next contract was on the line, even after he was guaranteed $55 million in 2013.
And, of course, when he was on, he was on.
Maybe no game defines him more than the 2013 shootout between him and Peyton Manning atAT&T Stadium. Romo threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns, led them from down by 15 in the third quarter to lead with seven minutes left … only to see the Broncos tie it, and see Romo throw, yes, a devastating pick in his own territory to set up the winning points in a 51-48 loss.
It was so Romo, in every conceivable way.
It's also a microcosm of a career that, all things considered, all but a handful of quarterbacks would agree to in a heartbeat.
Romo played in 156 games in a Cowboys uniform.Despite all those beatings, only five players played in more (Aikman and White are among them, Staubach is not). His six playoff games, and two wins, aren't in that ballpark.
That’s part of how he’ll be remembered.
But not all of it ...not even close.