Perception is so important in sports. The narrative we want to see can sometimes mask the actual reality. Legacies are defined by a variety of circumstances, but winning is the easiest way to assure one’s self a place among the respected greats. Failure to thrive on the grand stage makes for a narrative rife with holes, which, if left up to the fans to fill, can lead to an unpredictable and sometimes unfair reputation for an athlete.
Tony Romo is a success in every sense of the word, but in the wake of his recent retirement, and move to CBS as a broadcaster, it is obvious he is a victim of a warped perception brought on by some unfortunate on-field mishaps and the uniform he wore for 14 seasons. He is a polarizing figure, and people cannot decide if he is overrated or underrated, when in reality he is simply a solid football player who served as the professional sports version of the American Dream, whether people care to admit it or not.
Romo was not a Hall-of-Fame quarterback or even a good playoff quarterback for that matter, but that was never supposed to be his story. The players who are taken near the top of the draft board have their careers mapped out for themselves rather clearly. They will either fulfill the prophecy or, like many before them, combust. That is just the deal those superstar quarterbacks are given. That is not supposed to be the deal for an undrafted quarterback from Eastern Illinois.
For someone like Romo, a starting job on one of the premier franchises in sports is supposed to be a feel-good story that people want to sink their teeth into. Instead, because of some postseason flops and chronic injury problems he has become a joke, who people mock and criticize, all the while forgetting that he was never destined to become a fixture in the country’s most popular sport on America’s team for over a decade, but against all odds did so anyway. That is what we call a feel-good story.
The fact that Romo’s alma mater is the same as New England Patriot quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, is not the only connection he has with Tom Brady. They were both cast aside when they came out in the NFL draft, but were saved by the vision of two different, but highly successful football guys who saw something in the overlooked quarterbacks that many others dismissed. Jerry Jones gave Romo the keys to Dallas, while Bill Belichick made the rest of the league feel downright foolish with his golden boy Brady leading the charge. Both usurped the unfortunate Drew Bledsoe to get their foot through the door and never looked back. But that is where the similarities stop.
Brady went to partake in six championship parades, while Romo’s most memorable moments are probably the reason “SportsCenter” decided to implement the Not Top 10. His fumbled snap on the attempted 19-yard game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2007 NFC Wildcard Playoff game and his end zone interception against the New York Giants in the following year’s divisional round game fuels the disgust for Romo. He is a choker, a player who crumbles with the game on the line. He is Shane Falco in the 1996 Sugar Bowl for those of you who agree with me that “The Replacements” is one of the most underrated sports movies of all time. Only he never got his moment.
Sure, he finally got over the hump after losing what felt like 20 straight win-and-you’re-in regular season finales, and he helped make the Cowboys a legitimate contender in 2014. Romo’s legacy, however, is that people were never sure how they were supposed to feel about him.
He was villainized and accentuated in large part because of where he played, and how he embraced by the Cowboys’ culture. He had Jones’s seal of approval and he dated two celebrities. We forgot that he was supposed to be holding clipboards, not hoisting Lombardi Trophies or breaking passing records. We are the ones to blame.
We held a good, productive quarterback to herculean standards that 32 teams believed he was incapable of reaching. And he proved them right to some extent, but Romo went on to enjoy a career that sums up why we invest so heavily in athletes. He found a home in Jerry’s World, was a consistent force and accepted his sad and abrupt end with complete grace. What more can you ask from a player of his caliber?