In fact, his approach to football – part peach-fuzz, part blood-and-mud – is worth paying attention to. So is Troy Aikman's approach, which had its similarities.
Worth paying attention to. And not just for me and for you. But for our boy Tony Romo.
It was funny the other day, hearing the President of the United States, George W. Bush, try to frame his personality, and to do so in a way that is in conflict with perception.
"I'm a 'Type A' personality, you know. I just, I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach. Particularly since I quit drinking.''
Big straw hat? Hawaiian shirt? Sitting on some beach? Hmmmm. Sound like any quarterback we know?
Back to Tebow. Gotta give this to the Gator: He stood up and spoke up for Florida, and he made an early-season promise that suggested it meant the world to him to try to win football games. Few college football fans will ever forget this September speech:
To the fans and everybody of Gator Nation, I'm sorry. Extremely sorry. We wanted an undefeated season. That was my goal, something Florida has never done here. I promise you one thing, a lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. You will never see another player push his team as hard as I will push everybody the rest of the season. You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season. God bless."
And then, in Jack Armstrong The All-American Boy fashion, Tebow went out and won the national championship.
Now, contrast that with Our Tony, who said, "Life isn't all about the Super Bowl. Life is also about golf and Cabo and motorboating Jessica.'' Or something like that.
As Troy Aikman said Tuesday on Michael Irvin's ESPN 103.3 radio show (in three bites):
* "To say 'I don't worry about perception,' you better worry about perception because it is a big part of making it through some very difficult times. … I just thought you never wanted to give. ... anyone reason to think you didn't play well other than you just didn't play well."
* "I don't know after a game like that when you are trying to win and get into the playoffs. ... I don't know that at that moment you want anybody putting life into perspective for you."
* "At the end of the day it doesn't matter what your style or what your approach is as long as you win...But when you lose everything is open to scrutiny."
Amid questions about his work habits and his "celebrity'' status and his insistence on gun-slingin' and his disputes with coaches, is it OK to wish that Tony Romo would follow the advice of an old quarterback who came before him? Or even to follow the advice of a young quarterback who is coming up from behind?
This is not new territory in this space. I was the first (only?) sportswriter to note, as early as the 2007 Cowboys training camp, that the Dallas management was trying to tone down Tony, trying to break him off bad on-field habits, and trying to corral the Karaoke.
By the end of this season, though, Romo had regressed. It wasn't a matter of physical toughness; he's a gamer in that regard. But there is something else, a continuing lack of understanding about the rare position he holds.
Romo demonstrated that lack of understanding in the moments following the 44-6 season-ender in Philly when – serving as the de facto team spokesman, as a quarterback (like Tebow, like Aikman) often does – he said:
"I wake up tomorrow and keep living. You don't deal with it. You just keep playing the game. It's a fun game, and it's enjoyable. We're going to try to win next year. We're going to try and get back in the playoffs, and we're going to try to win a Super Bowl. If you don't, okay. If you do, okay. Then you're really a great player. If you don't, you're just a solid, good player, and I'll have to deal with that, not you guys. That's just part of the job. I've had a lot worse things happen to me than a loss in a sporting event, that's for sure. If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, then I'll have lived a pretty good life."
That was an error in judgment. Maybe a misstatement? Something that he'd learn from, especially with some time now to reflect and to ponder the words of Aikman and others?
Nope. Tony meant it then. And he means it now.
In an interview with his home-state Racine (Wisc.) Journal Times, the quarterback gave another "life-is-bigger-than-football'' address:
"If I'm never going to win the Super Bowl, I'll be content in life. I'll be disappointed because that's what I wanted to do. At that same point, it's not going to be something that makes me a better human being. I think I'm going to work very hard to try to obtain those goals. But I'm not going to pretend to say that that's what life's all about either."
See, Cowboys fans don't need to be instructed or lectured about "life.'' They pay their bills and they raise their kids and on Sundays they like to pour themselves a beer and then pour themselves into their football team. For three hours a week (more if you are surfing the internet right now at work, unbeknownst to the boss) they let their lives BE about football.
And all they ask is that 53 other guys join them in that passion.
Tebow isn't a better player than Romo. There are things Romo can do that even Troy could not. But there is a common thread that runs between the kid who is one of the best to ever play at the college level and the older dude who is one of the best to ever play at the pro level. Hell, there is a common thread that runs between most big-time athletes who put their teams on their backs.
They hate to lose.
From Michael Irvin to Michael Jordan. From Wayne Gretzky to Jerral Wayne Jones. From Red Auerbach to Dan Reeves, who once spent an entire offseason teaching himself to catch golfballs on the back of his hand so he could win some bets at training camp.
They hate to lose.
Tony Romo – and a bunch of other members of the Dallas Cowboys – need to get to the business of defining themselves, of defining their legacy. Examples exist. Tebow's done it with words and actions. Aikman's done it with words and actions.
Does Romo want to do it with a "big straw hat and an Hawaiian shirt while sitting on some beach?''
That's entirely up to Tony.
Tebow, Troy and Lessons for Tony
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