Every team in the NFL passed on the opportunity to draft Tony Romo when he came out of Eastern Illinois in the 2003 draft. Over 8,200 yards passing in the Ohio Valley Conference, three time All- America honors, and the Walter Payton Award for being the top player in NCAA 1-AA football were not enough to convince any of the 32 NFL front offices that the quarterback could play football on Sunday afternoons. Every team in the league would soon be proven wrong.
Both the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos were interested in securing the services of the gun-slinging passer, however; and once his name was not called during the draft Romo decided that the best opportunity for his future would lie with the Cowboys. That judgement looked to be a mistake until the the team moved on from quarterback Quincy Carter amid substance abuse issues. Those issues opened up room for Romo on the Dallas roster.
Still, his role was primarily as the holder for the kicking team and as the back up to first Vinny Testeverde, and later Drew Bledsoe. His chance finally came on October 15, 2006; Romo took his first meaningful professional snap against the Cowboys cross state foe, the Houston Texans. Romo completed two passes that day, including his first professional touchdown to Terrell Owens.
At halftime the following week, the Tony Romo story in Dallas began to take shape. He replaced Bledsoe at halftime. As we would soon come to expect from Tony, it was a mixed outing. The freewheeling passer threw a pair of touchdowns for the Cowboys but he also added a trio of interceptions. Regardless, Romo brought excitement back to the team and two days later Bill Parcells made the transition official when he named Tony the team’s starting quarterback.
Romo responded. His first start came against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night. By the time the final seconds wore off the clock the Cowboys were 35-14 winners and Dallas had a star in the making. A few weeks later the Cowboys, behind their new leader, would take out the last of the league’s unbeaten teams when they faced Peyton Manning and the Colts.
An outstanding national performance on Thanksgiving cemented the fact that the Tony Romo era in Dallas was in full swing. The team would cap Tony’s coming out party with a return to the playoffs and a date with the Seattle Seahawks.
You know the story about that game and the one play that will forever be linked to Romo’s career. There is no need to rehash it here; it will see plenty of air time this week on TV and be the subject once again of many water cooler discussions.
Instead, I prefer to remember Tony’s debut season for the trip to the Pro Bowl that followed, the first of four trips to the NFL’s all star contest that #9 would make as a Cowboy.
Romo came out for the 2007 season with guns blazing, and so did the team. The high-powered offense that he led served notice that the Cowboys were back after a serious drought and they intended to run wild on their opposition. He lead an offense that was powerful enough that the squad was able to overcome a dismal performance by its passer (five interceptions including two for touchdowns and a lost fumble) and win a game over the Bills. By this time it was clear that Tony was the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys.
Perhaps his best outing that season came against the Green Bay Packers. The teams entered the contest with identical 10-1 records and they were jockeying for playoff position in the NFC. The Boys emerged from that meeting with a 37-27 victory over and old nemesis thanks to a four touchdown effort from Romo. This put them in the driver’s seat for the rest of the regular season. The year would conclude with a 13-3 mark and the top seed in the playoffs.
It would also soon see the team fail to win a playoff contest for the second straight year as the Cowboys would be eliminated by a New York Giants squad who would prove to be a team of destiny. The lack of playoff wins would be an issue that would continue to haunt Romo throughout his run in Dallas.
His third season as the Dallas quarterback would see something else that would prove to be a mark of Tony’s time as the quarterback. Romo’s style of play and his toughness coupled with a burning desire to win often put him in situations when he took a lot more punishment than what a team would like to see inflicted on their quarterback. Against the Arizona Cardinals he was knocked out of the action and would miss three consecutive games. Once he returned, Romo’s performance was lackluster and the team that had been on top of the NFC the prior season fell to 9-7 and failed to make the playoffs.
The Cowboys and Romo would return to form in 2009. That season would see Romo take every offensive snap for the team, the only quarterback in franchise history to do so, as he guided the Cowboys back to the playoffs behind an 11-5 record. As the NFC East champions the Cowboys were rewarded for their efforts with an opportunity to play host to divisional foe in the opening round of the post season. For the first time in his career, Tony Romo led the franchise to a playoff victory. For the Cowboys and their quarterback the monkey was finally off their backs.
It returned the following week as Romo turned in one of the most dismal efforts of his career against the Vikings and the Cowboys were routed 34-3.
The next season was one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory for Cowboys fans started off rough and only got rougher for the Dallas Cowboys. Preseason talk of becoming the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium soon faded as the Cowboys lost their opening two contests of the season before soon losing their starting quarterback to the first broken clavicle injury of his career. If there was one season that Romo would most like to forget it would most likely be the 2010 campaign.
That season would also be the one that would start to raise durability questions about the Cowboys quarterback.
Romo would suffer another injury to start the 2011 season. In week 2 he would suffer a broken rib and a punctured lung against the San Francisco 49ers. Somehow the tough guy inside Romo took over and the Cowboys leader would return to action and lead his teammates to victory in overtime.
Not only did Romo manage to play through the pain of his rib injury for the rest of the season, incredibly he seemed to get stronger as the weeks wore on. The opening quarter of the season was pretty much a pedestrian effort for Romo as he dealt with the initial impact of his injury, but the closing 12 games would see him throw 24 touchdowns against only five interceptions. Considering the pain he was dealing with it was the most impressive streak of Tony’s tenure with the Cowboys.
With the team in the midst of the 8-8 doldrums that marked the early portion of Jason Garrett’s tenure as the Cowboys head coach, a large share of the blame for a lack of success fell on the shoulders of Tony Romo. The 2012 season is a case in point. A lack of talent surrounding him forced Romo to have to push himself to keep the team in contention. He gave everything he had, often pushing so hard that mistakes were bound to happen, and serious questions about his role at the helm of the Cowboys began to get serious air-play in the media. Somehow Romo was able to put it all aside and perform to the best of his abilities. It would not be enough, especially for fans disappointed in the team’s lack of success over the past couple decades. Although he was the key reason that the team was not eliminated until the last week of the season, Romo would be the goat for all the team's shortcomings.
The same would hold true for the 2013 season.
Romo returned for 2014 fresh off of a back surgery to repair injuries suffered at the end of the previous season. Hopes were high, but so were concerns. A rash of recent injuries had left his longevity in the game in serious doubt.
After a horrendous outing to open the season, Romo and his cohorts went on a tear. Behind their leader the Cowboys soon became the hottest team in professional football. They were winning big games on the road, including a huge victory over the defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks. During this time Romo had a streak of stellar performances that included an amazing 13 touchdown to three interception run. The run was cut short when back issues once again flared up and Tony missed one game due to the issue, but concerns lingered on about his health.
The concerns were unfounded, or so it seemed at the time. Romo and the Boys were back again and they finished the season with a 12-4 record and another playoff win. The team did not put together the playoff run that Romo needed to finally shed the monkey on his back once and for all, but the future looked bright for Dallas and its quarterback.
The football gods had other ideas.
After an opening night defeat of the New York Giants, week two of the 2015 season saw Romo once again fractured his collarbone. An eight-week healing process put a damper on any hopes for a second consecutive dominating season. In his return to action against the Carolina Panthers, Romo re-injured the shoulder and would be lost for the season.
With his recent history of injury it was clear to many that Romo’s time in Dallas was drawing to a close so the Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott to be his understudy.
Fans had visions of Prescott learning from the master for a couple seasons before taking the helm in Dallas. Those dreams came to a close when Romo was injured in the team’s third preseason game of 2016. The rookie grabbed the bull by the horns and never relinquished his grasp. Like a true professional Romo was there to mentor the man who was edging him out in Dallas.
Tony’s swan song would prove to be a touchdown drive during the team’s final contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Although his time in Dallas is through, we wish Tony Romo a successful conclusion to his career and when the time comes we look forward to seeing him retire as a Cowboy.
Thanks for everything, Tony.