I certainly don’t wish to detract from Larry Allen’s well-deserved Hall of Fame moment, as he is inducted this weekend as part of the 2013 Class along with six other worthy NFL personalities. Congratulations Larry, you were the best offensive lineman in the history of the game. Please forgive me if I look ahead a few – maybe ten years (if we’re all still around), to what I predict will be Tony Romo’s own induction into the NFL Hall of Fame. Here are a few of the things people will be discussing as Romo dons the yellow jacket.
An undrafted free agent in 2003, Romo chose to sign with Dallas instead of taking more money to play in Denver. Dallas initially offered less money, but afforded a much greater opportunity. With Quincy Carter’s sad and unceremonious departure from the team in early 2004, Romo moved up the depth chart, ascending to the number two spot in 2005.
On October 23, 2006, I was there in person when he took over the reins of the Dallas Cowboys, never to look back. Replacing Drew Bledsoe, whose otherwise stellar NFL career ended with an end-zone interception, Romo promptly threw an interception, but bounced back quickly. As a student of the quarterback position, I remember being duly impressed with his uncanny pocket presence and mobility, and I left that game convinced he had the fastest release I had ever seen. Turns out I was right on both counts. A few years later one of the networks showed a split screen comparison of Romo and Dan Marino. Romo was just a split second quicker. It was immediately apparent to me that this happy-go-lucky kid, born in San Diego, raised in Burlington, Wisconsin, and schooled at Eastern Illinois University, was going to be something special at quarterback for the Cowboys. Bill Parcells, then Cowboys coach, and a Hall of Famer as of this weekend, was right – this Romo kid had something.
Since then Romo has had some great moments on the field, though his greatest criticisms have to do with his supposed failure to win in big games. Romo just isn’t clutch, right? At this point, the numbers say just the opposite. Currently, Romo has a 102.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter – best all time by five points! He has a career rating of 7.94 yards per attempt. That’s fourth all time behind only Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young, and Kurt Warner. He has a career passer rating of 95.6. That puts him at fifth all time, behind Rodgers, Young, Brady, and Peyton Manning. That is elite company. Stats don’t mean everything, but what those stats mean is that he is throwing elite difficulty passes and completing them at an elite level.
But he simply doesn’t have postseason success to show for it. The popular number cited is that he is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games. Brad Gagnon wrote an excellent article debunking Romo’s non-clutch reputation in these games, showing that the circumstances of those games prove Romo to be reliable if not outstanding (unless you have him holding for field goals). Not perfect, mind you – he did lead the league in interceptions last year, but he also led the Cowboys to five fourth quarter comebacks in 2012 (His 18 overall is tied for thirty-fourth all time, and best in Cowboys history).
His critics also point to the infamous trip to Cabo in 2008, but seem to forget that Jason Witten – a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer – went with him. But give him credit for learning from his mistakes. Don’t know if he’s been back there since. His critics didn’t like how he wore his hat backwards. These days, he’s flipped the lid. His critics complain that he plays too much golf. Recently he’s played less.
There is only one thing that his critics can legitimately point to that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame: the one stat that actually counts – rings. He currently has none of those. But if things keep developing in Big D, that might change very soon.
Perhaps when he has some postseason success, people can really appreciate Romo for the class act he seems to be. Remember when he and Jason Witten invited and paid for a homeless man to watch a movie with them – and sat with him? Remember when Romo changed a tire for an elderly couple on the side of a road after a Sunday game? Remember when Romo recently donated $1 million to Urban Alternative – a Christian group committed to helping others through Biblical teaching? Kudos to his parents, Ramiro and Joan Romo, and to his wife Candace, and their son Hawkins – they can all take some credit for Tony’s growth and success, and I hope he gets a couple of rings for all of their sakes. Romo has been a joy to watch during his career, and Godwilling, he still has some great years left in the tank. Already holding every major Cowboys passing record, with each pass he adds to an already impressive and potentially Hall of Fame calibur resume, and a continuing legacy of quality from Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks. Thanks Tony, hoping and praying it goes your way from here on out. Is it too early to buy tickets to the induction ceremony?