The legend of Tony Romo started on January 6, 2007. Up until that point, Romo had been hailed by the Dallas Cowboys faithful as a godsend.
Here was this undrafted gunslinger leading his team to the playoffs without breaking their bankroll. His emergence signaled a new era because his physical abilities, guts and instincts gave the Cowboys another hero to build their team around.
His name sounded so logical in the progression of Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Tony Romo.
From Day One as a starter Romo felt different that the duds of years past.
Unlike like Danny White he had natural leadership ability. Unlike Drew Bledsoe he was not squeezing the last bit of juice out of a lemon of a career. We won’t talk about Quincy Carter.
The team sagged after the Triplets folded one-by-one. And now, there was hope and a spark.
That was until January 6, 2007. The date bears repeating over and over again. That was the day that self-doubt and the fear of executing poorly seemingly began to seep deeply into the man’s soul.
To quickly recap, Dallas trailed the Seattle Seahawks 21-20 with 1:19 to play in the fourth quarter of the NFC wild card game in Seattle. Martin Gramatica lined up to attempt a 19-yard field goal with Romo fielding the snap.
The ball slipped through Romo’s hands at the nine-yard line. He picked it up and attempted to run for the first down but was tackled short by Seahawks safety Jordan Babineaux at the two-yard line. Romo fumbled and Seattle recovered and ran it out.
Now that its known what was to come later, that moment is still ugly by even Romo’s standards.
Yet, he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.
It has less to do with the concept that he was a Dallas Cowboy and more to do with what he did to the team’s fan base.
Tony Romo was among the best quarterbacks in the league for the first 75-percent of any time frame.
If a NFL game was three quarters instead of four and was a 12-game season instead of a 16 game haul, he would be revered more than a serving of Tom Brady with a side of Peyton Manning.
But the game is what the game is. And despite all of the “comebacks” that the man “engineered,” he threw away opportunity after opportunity to get Dallas to the Promised Land.
Before stats are spit out ask one question ‘would I give him the ball with 90 seconds on the clock, no timeouts and a trip to the playoffs on the line?’
And that is how Cowboys fans were forced to learn how to love pain. You could even tag his career 50 Shades of Tony.
Cold facts time. Tony Romo only won two playoff games in 14 seasons and never made a trip to the NFC Championship Game let alone the Super Bowl.
Another cold fact is that he broke all of the significant franchise record at his position. Does that make him better than Aikman?
There could be an argument made that he never had a consistent running back to offset him the way that Aikman did, but he made so many mental errors during key moments that it has to fall back on the concept that when glory was on the line, Romo choked.
This is why this piece starts in Seattle. Chocking is a learned behavior that is brought on by fear, pressure and doubt.
Before the fumble, Romo was playing with house money. He was never supposed to even play let alone start in the NFL.
After the fumble, things changed both with the expectations that surrounded him and the albatross that his psyche chose to carry.
A series of high profile girlfriends and even Terrell Owens did not crush his prime as some may feel.
In fact, one of Romo’s peers Donovan McNabb went to a Super Bowl with Owens and won 9 playoff games.
Playing in the same division, he lifted the Philadelphia Eagles to four straight appearances in the NFC title game and five overall.
McNabb is the most successful postseason quarterback outside of Jim Kelly to never win a title.
Over the years, when Romo shouldered the blame in press conference after press conference and he shuffled through the ‘we’ll come back and get better” routine, it seemed like at some point Tony would get it right.
He did and still does care deeply for the Cowboys and their fans and he sacrificed his body time after time to deliver on his promises.
At no point did Romo phone-it-in. And caring too much could ultimately be what doomed him from the start.
And through perhaps no real fault of his own, he will leave behind a legacy of being the NFL’s most lovable loser.
But should that guarantee him a spot in Canton?
Watch: Tony Romo Fumble On January 6, 2007