Over And Out: The Dallas Cowboys Officially Release Tony Romo - My Personal Goodbye
For me, the Tony Romo story isn't just about him. As I update my recent piece on the subject (now that we know The Dallas Cowboys QB is leaving for the CBS broadcast booth), I remind you that the Tony Romo story is also, to me, about ... me.
Yes, there are nuts and bolts about the contract and such. Fish reports that as of about 1 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday, the Cowboys have released Romo. This means he's not going to their Reserve/Retired List. Dallas is giving up his rights - "The Do-Right Rule!'' -- while also designating him a June 1 cut, a move that spreads his cap impact out over two years while providing $14 mil of cap room come June 2.
But again ... This is about Tony. And me.
Growing up in Texas, I was part of a very small percentage of the population who didn’t care about football. I was born with cerebral palsy and scoliosis so I was never really able to play any sports. I was more into theater and performing arts. While my friends were going to football practice, I was memorizing a monologue for my next audition. My passion for acting has stayed with me today. In fact, it’s what I now do for a living. I decided to homeschool for the remainder of high school and I completed 10th-12th grade in one year, allowing me to focus solely on my acting career. I started living part time in LA at the age of 16, moving from apartment to apartment with countless new roommates.
One of the places I lived briefly was with a friend’s family in Burbank. His dad was a former sportswriter so he always had football games on. I was the only one in the household who had no interest whatsoever in football. I didn’t even know what a first down was.
But all of that changed in one day …
The date was October 23, 2006. I had nothing to do so I decided to sit down and watch the football game with my roommates. That game was the Week 7 matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Giants. The game that would in a way feature undrafted QB from Eastern Illinois -- Tony Romo. I figured, “If I’m going to watch a football game, I might as well support my hometown team.”
My roommates were more than happy to explain the rules to me. They also explained the significance of an undrafted QB replacing a veteran like Drew Bledsoe. As soon as No. 9 took the field, I was hooked. Everyone loves a good underdog story, and after learning about the odds being stacked against Romo, I couldn’t help but root for the guy. It wasn’t pretty at first; Romo threw three interceptions in that game. But he showed so much passion and his immense talent was obvious - even to an untrained eye like my 16-year-old self.
By the end of the game, I knew I was in trouble. There was no turning back. I was officially a Cowboys fan.
I was the last person in the world that I ever thought would care about football. When I told my family and friends that I was into football now, they all thought I was joking. It wasn’t until I asked for a Romo jersey for Christmas that they knew I was serious. For the remainder of the season, I watched every single Cowboys game from start to finish, learning more and more about the game and the players each week. I studied the roster, player stats and Cowboys history like I was studying for the most important test of my life. I was making up for all of the lost time from before I had football in my life. By season’s end, I was a Cowboys "expert.'' In 2007, I broadened my football knowledge and learned the names and history of every other NFL franchise, which made me appreciate the Cowboys even more. It also made me realize just how good Tony was.
I wasn’t just biased. He was truly one of the best QB’s in the NFL.
Fast-forward to 2016-17 -- after countless records, achievements and HOF-caliber statistics -- and Romo is still criminally under-appreciated by a large portion of this fanbase. That’s why I’m writing this article, this "Thank-You'' Note. ... To shed some light on the legacy that Tony Romo will leave behind in Dallas once he almost inevitably moves on to another team next season.
Tony Romo’s legacy can be broken down into four sections.
The first part of his legacy is his tremendous work ethic.
You can never question the work ethic of someone who goes undrafted out of a small college and eventually becomes the starting QB for the most profitable sports franchise in the world, breaking nearly every possible passing record in team history. Sure, Romo has a ton of natural talent but if he relied on that alone he wouldn’t have lasted one season in the NFL. Romo has consistently gotten better throughout his career, not because he’s getting more talented, but because he continues to work just as hard today as he did in his rookie season. He is a student of the game, a technician. He’s now able to read defenses as well as anyone thanks to years of studying tape and dissecting every aspect of the game. You don’t get to be a 10-year starter and 14-year veteran in the NFL without putting in a ridiculous amount of work. Romo’s BFF, Jason Witten, gets a ton of praise for his preparation and work ethic - and rightfully so - but Romo is the same way. Every offseason since 2004, those two players have gotten together and worked on specific areas of their game that they want to improve upon. Despite their impressive achievements, neither of them are ever satisfied. There’s always room for improvement.
The next part of Tony Romo’s legacy are his achievements and accolades.
Some players remain starters in the NFL because they're JUST good enough to keep their job. They aren’t elite or in the top tier of their position. They’re just very solid players. That’s not Tony, though. Contrary to the beliefs of televised trolls like Stephen A. Smith and Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo is an elite quarterback. People will bring up the lack of Super Bowl rings to disregard his elite status, but those people don’t seem to understand the concept of a team sport. Romo has never had a consistent defense. In fact, he’s played with some historically bad defenses. Also, until 2014, he never had a consistent offensive line or run game. Most QB’s would put up pedestrian numbers in those conditions. Not Tony Romo. When you look at his individual statistics, milestones and accolades, it’s clear that he’s among the best in the NFL at his position.
Take a look for yourself:
- Most career passing touchdowns in franchise history
- Most career passing yards in franchise history
- Most career 4th quarter comebacks in franchise history
- The only QB in NFL history with 3+ TD’s and 0 INT’s in 4 consecutive road games.
- Holds the longest streak of consecutive games - including playoffs - with a 60+ completion % in NFL history.
- The first QB in NFL history with 2 different streaks of 17+ games with a 60+ completion %.
- Has the 4th highest career completion % in NFL history.
- Has the 3rd highest passer rating in NFL history.
- The only QB with a 135+ passer rating in 6 games in a season. Only 2 other QB’s have had more than 4.
- The only player in NFL history with 4+ game winning drives in 4 consecutive seasons.
- Highest 4th quarter passer rating in NFL history.
- Holds the NFL record for the most consecutive road games with a passing TD (41).
- Tied for 3rd most seasons in NFL history with a passer rating over 90 (9).
- Tied for the 4th longest streak in NFL history for consecutive seasons with a 60+ completion % (11).
- Tied for the 2nd longest streak in NFL history for consecutive seasons with a 60+ completion % AND a 90+ passer rating (9).
- Set the NFL record for highest passer rating in the month of December (133.7).
- The 9th QB since 1960 to lead the NFL in completion %, YPA and passer rating in the same season.
- One of 3 QB’s in NFL history to have a 60+ completion % in 15 games in a single season.
“What about the playoffs?” you might ask. After all, Romo only has two playoff wins. Well, once again, it’s a team sport. Go watch the tape and see how poorly his offensive line and defense have played in the majority of his playoff appearances. If that’s not enough, just take a look at some of his playoff stats:
- 4-1 TD/INT ratio in the playoffs.
- 5th highest postseason completion % in NFL history - 65.3.
- 6th highest postseason YPA in NFL history - 7.9.
- 10th highest postseason passer rating in NFL history - 93.0.
- Only QB in NFL history with a 140+ passer rating and a 78+ completion % in a road playoff game.
- Only QB to lose a playoff game with a 125+ passer rating. The others were 68-0.
- Only QB in NFL history with a 113+ passer rating in the regular season and a 120+ passer rating in the playoffs in the same year.
Unfortunately, too many fans - and the Pro Football Hall of Fame - judge QB’s based mostly on Super Bowl rings and playoff success rather than their individual achievements. However, Romo is a Hall-of-Fame QB - and his numbers support that opinion.
The third part of Romo’s legacy is toughness.
Some Romo-bashers might take issue with this. How can someone be tough when they’re constantly missing games due to injury? First off, don’t confuse toughness with durability. No one is saying that Romo is an iron man. But his toughness should never be questioned. Tony Romo has played with broken ribs, herniated discs, broken vertebrae, a punctured lung, a broken collarbone (three times) and broken fingers.
Remember Week 16 of the 2013 season, at Washington? After suffering a back injury, Romo led his team to an incredible comeback victory with a fourth-quarter, fourth-down touchdown pass to set his team up for a “win and you’re in” week 17 game. It wasn’t until further examinations the next day that we learned Romo had played through a herniated disc and had to undergo surgery, forcing him to miss the final game. A couple years earlier, Week 2 in San Francisco, Romo took a huge hit that broke ribs and punctured his lung. After leaving the game momentarily, he came back to lead his team to an OT win after erasing a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter. Even this last preseason, when Romo broke his back vs the Seahawks, he put his helmet back on and tried to get back out on the field before the coaches stopped him. A PRESEASON GAME!
Romo has taken an absolute beating throughout his career. He’s suffered about as many injuries as anyone. Most sane people in his position likely would’ve called it quits by now. But every time No. 9 gets knocked down, he gets back up and comes back more determined than ever. That’s the definition of toughness.
The final part of Tony Romo’s legacy is his selflessness - both on and off the field.
By 2013, I was as much of a die-hard fan as anyone. I started up a Cowboys fan page on Facebook to share my love and knowledge for America’s Team. It quickly gained tens of thousands of followers. I started attending Cowboys charity events and interviewing players, building relationships with them. Soon I met Mike Fisher and started writing with him here at CowboysHQ.com.
In November of 2013, I was covering the Cowboys Thanksgiving luncheon at the Salvation Army in Dallas. I had already met and gotten to know all of the players who were listed on the press release. This was just another (great) day in the office. But then an unexpected player showed up. As I was standing in the hallway, waiting to go inside, I look up and see Tony Romo walking right towards me. I froze. I couldn’t believe that the man who was responsible for me becoming a Cowboys fan was right there. As a sports writer, when talking to a player, I’m usually focused on what I can ask them for an article. But not this time.
I just wanted to meet Tony - one of my heroes.
I nervously walked up to Tony, who was standing with his wife Candice. I introduced myself and thanked him for being an inspiration to myself and so many others. He genuinely smiled and asked my name. We had a brief conversation before the PR folks ushered the players in to start the event. Since then, I’ve run into Tony a handful of times at different events and functions. And every time I see him, he makes a point to say hello and ask how I’m doing - usually before I even have a chance to say hello to him. (That's me in the middle photo above.) That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s the kind of heart he has. He genuinely cares. He cares about this team, he cares about the fans and he cares about people in general.
As someone who has been around celebrities and public figures my entire life, I can confidently say that Tony Romo is not only one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever met, but he’s one of the nicest people - period.
After losing 44-6 to the Eagles in the season finale of 2008, Romo was bashed for saying, “If this is the worst thing that will ever happen to me, then I've lived a pretty good life." People took that as Romo not caring about football - which couldn’t be farther from the truth. You don’t go through what Romo has if you don’t care about football. A lot of media outlets, reporters and fans like to make Tony out as being somethings he is not. They criticized him for dating famous women, for going on vacations, for playing golf. Heck, they even criticized him for wearing his hat backwards! Tony is arguably the most scrutinized and controversial player in the NFL despite being one of the most likable people in all of sports.
While every mistake Romo has made over the last decade is examined under a microscope and used as a headline, his countless good deeds have gone widely unrecognized. We all saw Romo’s heartbreaking speech in which he handed the keys over the Dak. You could see the pain in his eyes but he selflessly did what was right for the team. He received praise from many after that but some still bashed him (I’m looking at you, Ray Lewis). To some critic, the guy can’t do anything right.
But the Romo-to-Dak concession speech (see our story and the video here) is not even scratching the surface of Romo’s selflessness. His good heart extends well beyond football. I’d be willing to bet many reading this never heard the story of Romo taking a homeless guy to the movies with him and feeding him. Or how about when Tony granted the wish of a terminally ill teenager’s who wanted to meet his idol, and later helped pay for funeral expenses when the boy passed away? Then there was that time when Romo stopped on his way home from a playing a game to help an elderly couple change their tire. And the time he donated over $1 million to a local church.
The list goes on and on, yet it doesn’t fit the national media’s narrative so .... All you know is that Romo fumbled a snap in Seattle in 2006 and went to Cabo before the playoffs in 2007 (though few mention that Jason Witten was in Cabo with him). As great as Tony Romo was on the field for the Cowboys - and yes, he was GREAT - he’s an even better person off of the field.
This is the end of an era. It's been "goodbye'' in some form for some time ...
But this is Dak's team now and I support him 100 percent. He took advantage of a tremendous opportunity and earned that job. He’s a special player (and person). He’s the ideal successor for Romo and he’s going to keep this team competitive for a long time.
The Cowboys will ALWAYS be my team, first and foremost. Nothing will ever change that. Players come and go, even though it hurts sometimes. Seeing Emmitt Smith go to Arizona and Demarcus Ware go to Denver stung. But I will always bleed silver and blue. Having said that, Tony Romo will always be my favorite player and I will follow his career closely wherever he goes. Whichever team is fortunate enough to land him will officially be my second favorite team - something I never thought I’d have. I’ll even buy his new jersey and watch all of his games. That’s how special Romo is. ... and will be, in whatever he does with his life next. Denver. Houston. Eventually, TV work.
So, Tony. ... Thank you for your hard work and commitment during a Ring-of-Honor career and I think, a Hall-of-Fame one. Thank you for doing this in relative quiet. Thank you for giving us countless memorable plays. Thank you for putting your body on the line for this team for over a decade. Thank you for putting up with constant unwarranted criticism. ... Oh, and did I mention the "memorable plays''? Even the very last one?
Thank you for being an inspiration to so many - including myself. Thank you for being instrumental in my love for this great sport. Thank you for remaining humble and for remembering what’s most important. Thank you for being MY quarterback.