In officially stepping aside as the Cowboys starting quarterback, the star replaced by Dak Prescott showed why he’s been beloved in Dallas for a decade. Plus reader mail on the election, overlooked teams and more
So, because of NBC and podcast commitments, I was tied up much of Tuesday. Late in the day, around 8, I finally saw the Tony Romo statement about his status and the Cowboys' quarterback situation. I said, “Whoa ... There’s the guy I want on my team.”
I watched, and I felt emotional. I tear up pretty easily, but this wasn’t a teary situation—just one that demanded respect for a player who’d waited his career for the kind of chance he was two weeks from getting. Romo was so close to piloting the kind of offense a quarterback rarely gets to lead, with a top-five running back, a top-five wideout, a top-five tight end … and a top-one offensive line. What quarterback has it that good? Romo knew. No quarterback had it that good.
In mid-August, I was in Oxnard, Calif., on the last practice day of Cowboys training camp, and I spent 36 minutes with Romo, recording a podcast for use at the start of the season. (It’s a podcast we still have in mothballs. It’s good, it’s informative, it’s educational about the position and the player ... but when Romo was knocked out for 10 weeks, and, perhaps, his career nine days later, the pod got shelved. A shame, selfishly. But who cares about a stupid podcast? This is about Romo.)
That day, I remember distinctly that the Cowboys were doing something nice for the employees who hosted the Cowboys at the Oxnard hotel they'd called their training camp home for three weeks. All the employees were standing on one side of the field, and the players were told by coach Jason Garrett to sign and pose for selfies for these folks who waited on them endlessly for three weeks. And they did. But the main guy the fans wanted was Romo. “Tony! TONY!!!” a few in the corner of the end zone yelled when he was slow making his way to them.
Dez Bryant was here. Jason Witten was here. Everyone was, including the rookies who had yet to become stars—Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott. But it was Romo they wanted. He was the centerpiece, the key to the Dallas season. And for 20 minutes, he signed, he selfied, he backslapped. He was The Man. Quarterbacks, star quarterbacks, are that way.
There’s a presence quarterbacks have. I’ve seen it for three decades. When Phil Simms walked into a restaurant for a meal two nights before the 1986 NFC title game in Jersey, time stopped. Waiters froze. Patrons stared. In the ’90s, Brett Favre walked by tables in a Green Bay country club, and maybe he didn’t notice, but I did: Diners whispered and pointed and stared. The Man was walking by. Drew Brees, a hero in New Orleans for his post-Katrina work, in Commander’s Palace in New Orleans: Same thing. Near reverence.
Quarterbacks. Think of last summer. Think of the NFL hierarchy of established and respected players and leaders. Brady at the top. Brees just behind. Then who? Romo, in a group with Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers. Then the young guns—Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, etcetera.
And a week after this scene in Oxnard, Romo was lying on the ground against Seattle in a preseason game, hit by Cliff Avril, another piece of very bad luck. Romo landed on the turf and clutched his back, which had a broken bone in it. He was going to miss some time. But how much? An MRI told the truth: Ten weeks. And by now you know by now that that meant Dak Prescott would take the reins, and he’d have one of the most unlikely three-month runs we’ve ever seen. Dallas is 8-1. The Cowboys have the best record in football, and the 135th pick in the draft is the story of the year in the NFL.
On Tuesday, two days after Romo watched Prescott and the Cowboys win a very tough game in Pittsburgh, there was Romo, Cowboys hat low over his forehead, Cowboys shirt over his chest, abdicating the throne. He went to a podium at the team facility almost sheepishly, gently swatted away a question, and did the work he knew he had to do. He surrendered.
As he should have.
“Dak Prescott, and what he’s done, he’s earned the right to be our quarterback,” Romo said. “As hard as that is for me to say, he’s earned that right. He’s guided our team to an 8-1 record, and that’s hard to do. If you think for a second I don’t want to be out there, then you probably never felt the pure ecstasy of competing and winning. That hasn’t left me. In fact, it may burn now more than ever. To say the first half of this season has been emotional would be a huge understatement. Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you’ve had was a soul-crushing moment for me. It’s a dark place. Probably the darkest it’s ever been.”
Romo talked for a while longer, about five minutes in total, and he bled and he confessed and he bled some more. It’s about as classy a stepping-aside as I’ve ever seen. But what Romo said that was most significant was this: “Football is a meritocracy. You’re not handed anything.”
He’s right. He’s not handed anything. Maybe he gets another chance if, like Drew Bledsoe in 2001, he re-enters the lineup at a vital time because the new kid, Tom Brady, gets hurt. But maybe not. If Romo doesn’t play, and he enters 2017 as the backup, will he demand a trade? Will he be someone else’s quarterback next year—Chicago, maybe, or the Jets?—or will he and Jerry Jones work out a reasonable backup salary, or …
We don’t know. The wound is too fresh. The scab’s not even formed yet. All I know is, it’s a sad week for Tony Romo, but he handled it with class.
Now for your email...
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ON THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE, AND THE ELECTION OF 2016
I understand you voted for Hillary and are deeply disappointed with the results. But to call the Electoral College outmoded is a huge mistake. Your argument is that it made the candidates campaign in eight or so states to decide the victor. Well, without the Electoral College the candidates would only have to campaign in four or five cities. What is right for L.A. or New York or Chicago is not right for the Midwest states.The whole reason for the Electoral College is so that every state has a voice.
You mentioned the Electoral College being broken, but not WHY the founding fathers created it—to me, that shows a conflict of interest. I live in “flyover country” in one of the “little population states” where my largest city of 170,000 is probably a suburb elsewhere. So if we had a popular vote where the 100 most populated counties hold the cards on leaning democratic or progressive, flyover country has zero chance, because we are traditionally conservative or middle of the road out here. That's the fear the forefathers envisioned as a nightmare scenario with a straight popular vote. That’s why we’re not a true democracy. The sore losers need to just drop it.
—Scott P., Sioux Falls, S.D.
You are a man who makes his living conveying meaning with words. As a result, I expect your words tell us exactly what you think. In today’s MMQB, you say, “People who live in a yuge area of the country ... should be heard, loud and clear.” Just above that statement, you referred to that “yuge area” as “Rust Belt and flyover America.” Your use of terms of decay and dismissal make it hard to believe that you have any intent or desire to hear from anyone in that wide area. How much do you think residents of those places want to make themselves heard and understood by you or other “coastal people” who diminish their part of this great country? By the way, the central sweep of this country used to be referred to fondly as America’s heartland. When did you stop seeing it that way?
—Tom L., Cedar Park, Texas
Thanks, everyone, for writing. (There were scores of email I didn’t use, much of which made the pro-Electoral College point.) A few thoughts:
• All votes in the United States should count the same. One person, one vote. The Montana vote counts the same as the Texas vote and counts the same as the New York vote. Ask yourselves this question: If we were inventing a country today, would we invent a system that counts votes differently? Absolutely, positively not.
• I don’t think “flyover country” is hateful or insulting, but then again, I don’t live there. I lived in Ohio for nine years and heard the term then and didn’t think anything of it. To each his own. “Rust Belt” insulting too? I guess I’m too insulated if those are insults.
• I do think the two major candidates in a presidential election would go to population centers they didn’t frequent in this election—and those would include cities like Kansas City and Minneapolis and Dallas and Houston and Denver and Nashville. (I didn’t see many of those datelines on candidate trips during the election season, as well as Manhattan, Los Angeles and San Francisco.) I still believe the country would be better-served by all votes counting the same.
• It is possible to be heartily disappointed with the outcome of an election and still pull for the president who won to succeed. That’s me. From the tenor of the emails, the vast of majority of you think I’m full of crap. (On this issue, certainly, and perhaps many others.)
FOUR IN A ROW DOLPHINS
Being a long-suffering Miami Dolphins fan, I would have liked to have read a bit more about the Dolphins’ win (four in a row in fact). Certainly they had some unsung heroes: Kiko Alonso with a great pickoff (which he literally anticipated into his hands) for a 60-yard touchdown. The disrespected secondary, which provided the other three interceptions in the fourth quarter, deserves some props. And maybe even Ryan Tannehill for a quietly efficient afternoon (and a QB rating of 130) especially when Jay Ajayi and the rest of the running game wasn’t all-world. Just a thought or three.
—Jeff D., Jerusalem, Israel
Sunday was not the best day to concentrate on the Dolphins, Jeff. In an ideal world, I’d have written something on them. A lot went on Sunday, and I missed a few very good stories, like the Dolphins and the Titans winning their fifth games with plenty of season left.
A WORD FROM VINATIERI’S COLLEGE TEAMMATE
RE: Adam Vinatieri, Hall of Fame candidate ... I agree. He’s a 100% first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Am I biased? Sure. I played alongside Adam for four years at South Dakota State. During our years there he was our punter and placekicker. Had you asked any of us then if he would be a HOF kicker we would have had a good chuckle. Truth is, he was a better punter in college. Little known fact, our junior year he was actually removed from placekicking duties because of accuracy issues. His replacement: a defensive lineman wearing a square-toed shoe. I kid you not. Maybe that was the motivation he needed to get to where he is today. Regardless, seeing anyone at his age be as good as he is amazes me. My hometown Vikings are stuck with the Blair Walsh Project, and yet I watch a former teammate never miss. Thank you for the great writing. Thank you for recognizing one of the best of all time and a fellow Jackrabbit in Vinny.
—Jake H., Rosemount, Minn. (SDSU Jackrabbit, '91-94)
I’ve got so much admiration for Vinatieri, for how he plays when the kicks are the toughest and how he plays when the kicks mean the most … and, obviously, for his staying power in such a transient business. Thanks for writing and telling our readers such an interesting story about his college career.
MORE TEXANS PLEASE
I’m a longtime reader from Houston, and quite frankly I'm disappointed to continually see, week in and week out, a lack of Texans coverage. They’re not flashy by any means, but they sit at 6-3, having beaten two current playoff teams in Detroit and Kansas City, and own an NFL best eight-game divisional winning streak. What’s a team gotta do to get one word in your column? Seriously, I CTRL+F every week, and there have been at least three weeks this year in which Houston or Texans does not appear.
Thanks for pointing it out. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to make of the Texans. Maybe that’s a good column item in itself.
RAIDERS/CHARGERS MOVE SITUATION
In MMQB, you said that the league “desperately wants to do something” to avoid the Raiders leaving for Vegas and the Chargers sharing L.A. with the Rams. Both Oakland and San Diego have made it 100% clear that they do not want to use public money to finance new stadiums (and I can’t blame them, as publicly financed stadiums are always a net economic loss to cities). Do you see the NFL with its vast financial resources swallowing hard and footing 100% of the bill for new stadiums if that’s the only way to keep the Raiders and Chargers from hightailing it out of town?
—Eric B., Park Ridge, Ill.
Absolutely not. I can’t see the NFL doing much more than it already has, given that it’s handed the Chargers and Raiders a $100 million bonus to get deals done in their home markets—and nothing is close in either place. When I said the league really wants to do something, that doesn’t mean they want to pay for it all. But the league simply doesn’t want the Bay Area to be a one-team place, and also doesn’t want a second team in Los Angeles at this time.
THE LEAPING BLOCK PHENOMENON
Justin Simmons and Will Parks deserve a ton of credit for the Broncos’ game-winning PAT block and return, but there’s one other person who played a critical role—Jared Crick. You can see from the replay as soon as the ball is snapped, Crick knocks the snapper to the ground, making the leap considerably easier for Simmons. Very well-designed play by special teams coach Joe DeCamillis and excellent execution. Do you think there will be a significant increase in the number of teams going for the PAT block now that the Seahawks, Broncos and other teams have given various blueprints of how it can be done? Should the rules committee make changes to prevent it for safety reasons?
—Josh, Rochester, N.Y.
Interesting questions. The key thing, I believe, is protecting the snapper as the NFL has tried to do. What this, I believe, is going to do now is force the kicking teams to consider moving a “personal protector” to the side between the center and holder, so if a leaper tries to do this again, he’ll get blocked by the up-back. Question is: Would there be too much traffic in front of the kicker for him to have a clear path to a good PAT?
CHUCK THE GLASS-CHEWING DOG
So, is your dog ok? Hope so.
Thanks, Henry. Other than being a Canine Urban Terrorist, Chuck seems pretty good after the Curious Incident of the Dog Who Chewed Glass. Any advice on getting him to obey?
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