The backup quarterback pilfered the veteran quarterback’s starting spot. It led to the backup’s first NFL regular-season action — a Dallas Cowboys home game against the New York Giants. As the season rolled, the backup put up. He acted up in an inviting, elevating style. The veteran quarterback pleaded for a chance to regain his job. Nope, he was told. The backup became more entrenched. By season’s end, the backup was the fresh star. He was the Dallas Cowboys’ new franchise quarterback. The veteran quarterback was done in Dallas. He retired.
Because what happened to Tony Romo in his decision on Tuesday to exit the Cowboys and the NFL is what happened to Drew Bledsoe in 2006 in Dallas. Romo took Bledsoe’s job back then, rekindled the franchise, and after that season, Bledsoe retired.
One swift kick deserves another among NFL brethren. And that includes rotten kicks, too.
It has taken several months for Romo to accept how things might have been as he leaps to a CBS broadcasting career. Mangled physically and battered mentally during his 14-season yo-yo career in Dallas, last season was one that Romo pictured as his best. He was finally healthy and he finally had his best set of offensive weapons connected with a defense he believed good enough to win it all. It was Super Bowl or bust for Romo. Bust won.
When Romo was curled in pain on the ground at the Seattle Seahawks last Aug. 25, his back broken from a preseason game hit, so much vanished for him. Most was the chance to see if the 2016 season was what he envisioned, his NFL apex dream.
As Romo ached on the ground, the Cowboys instantly wondered if their season was destroyed. There was shock on the sideline. Riveting concern for the games ahead as much as for Romo. But one man on that sideline shook it off. He shook everything off. They saw disaster. He saw gates swing broadly open, clouds clear, a sterling silver tray present, a magic carpet ready to hop aboard.
Rookie Dak Prescott instantly saw Romo’s injury as his hello.
Prescott was paying attention. He was ready. He led Dallas to the NFC Championship game. He set a bushel of rookie quarterback records. He became an instant league fixture.
And here we are all of these days and weeks later with Romo finally in total, exacting acknowledgment of what everyone already saw. Dak is the future. Tony is the past. It is over.
Sure, Romo could have remained as a backup. Dallas owner Jerry Jones would have loved that.
Once Romo was injured last season, Jones was consistent in saying that Prescott gave the Cowboys a chance to win regular season games but Romo gave them the best chance to win a championship. And since Dallas missed their ultimate mark, maybe Jones was right. It crushes Romo that he will never know the answer to that. In some ways, that saddens Jones, too. Jones has a fondness for Romo that is deep.
Jones took Troy Aiman No. 1 overall in the 1989 NFL draft and won three Super Bowls with him, but there was something extra special about this 2003 undrafted free agent quarterback from Eastern Illinois, this Tony Romo, this franchise quarterback from the scrap heap. Romo’s teammates saw it, felt it, as they embraced each other throughout the years in remarkable ways.
Two playoff victories and four playoff losses haunted Romo. The big miscues in big games caused many people to cruelly rip him. He won 78 games and lost 49. He threw for more than 34,000 yards. He won the prestigious 2002 Walter Payton award for humanitarian contributions. But he never won a Super Bowl. Maybe he can never match the Dallas quarterbacking legend of Aikman and Roger Staubach.
But his No. 17 jersey at Eastern Illinois is retired. I bet one day his No. 9 in Dallas will be retired, too.
Because though injuries were a factor in limiting him to only four starts in the last two seasons, he became a Pro Bowler after his first handful of games, like Prescott, and quickly won plenty of hearts and respect in Dallas, like Prescott. Romo endured. He did it consistently, affectionately for 14 seasons.
He turns 37 on April 21. Several TV outlets wanted his football acumen in their booths. And he enters that arena just like he entered the NFL. In fact, just like he exited the NFL.
Romo booted Bledsoe … Prescott booted Romo … and now Romo boots Phil Simms from his CBS analyst perch.
One swift kick deserves another among NFL brethren. And that includes rotten kicks, too. Tony Romo will always be a Dallas Cowboy, scars and all. He sure has enough of them. Along with staggering humility mixed with pungent karma that bookends his NFL start and finish.