NFL

The nine degrees of Tony Romo’s career

Bonnie Bernstein, Tony Romo
Vincent Frank
Written by Vincent Frank

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo retired from the NFL on Tuesday to a whole bunch of fanfare. For a guy that had played a grand total of five games over the past two seasons, the Romo saga captivated the football world.

Would he end up closing out his career vying for a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos or Houston Texans? Would Romo ultimately decide to hang it up after an injury-plagued past couple seasons?

That was answered on Tuesday when Romo turned in his football cleats for the broadcasting booth.

And so ends one of the most-fascinating careers in modern NFL history. From undrafted rookie free agent and small-school product to starting for America’s team, Romo’s career had so many degrees to it.

Let’s look at them below.

1. From undrafted free agent to Pro Bowler

Sure Tom Brady going from a skinny sixth-round pick that couldn’t beat out Drew Henson for a job at Michigan to a five-time Super Bowl champ takes the cake here. That’s all fine and dandy. Romo isn’t Brady. It would be unfair to both if we were to somehow compare the two.

But Romo going from individual workout and training camp invite as a small-school quarterback to starting for America’s team has to be considered one of the best stories of his generation. In less than three years as a backup for Dallas, Romo was starting and leading his team to the playoffs for the just the second time in seven seasons.

The 2006 campaign is what stood out as Romo ascended towards the game’s best. He threw 19 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions after taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe during a Monday Night Football game against the New York Giants.

Romo would go on to throw three interceptions in front of a national television audience, a moment that seemed to be too big for the Eastern Illinois product.

All he would do for the remainder of the season was post a 6-4 record while leading the team to a four-game winning streak in November. And while the year ended in disaster against Seattle (more on that later), this was the season that Romo proved himself capable of being a franchise quarterback.

2. Big game choke label 

Adam Hunger, USA Today Sports Images

Prior to winning 12 games in his final full season as the Cowboys’ starter back in 2014, Romo and the Boys endured three consecutive eight-win campaigns. Each season ultimately came to a conclusion in a do-or-die Week 17 loss to a division rival with the NFC East title on the line.

In 2011, Dallas dropped a season finale to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants by the score of 31-14. That game saw Romo throw an interception while turning the ball over two times. Though, the quarterback was also sacked six teams — a clear indication that he didn’t get help from his teammates.

The following season saw Dallas enter Week 17 with an 8-7 record and an opportunity to earn the NFC East title once again. This time, it came against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.

Romo would go on to throw three interceptions, including one that set up a short field and ultimately a Skins touchdown to put the game away late in the fourth quarter. That right there was the defining moment of Romo’s struggles when everything was on the line during his time in Dallas.

Dallas would eventually go on to lose the following season in Week 17 with the division on the line against Philadelphia. Though, that took place with Romo sidelined to injury and Kyle Orton stinking up the joint from under center.

3. Cowboys’ all-time passing leader 

We are all so fixated on stats in today’s football world. Maybe it has to do with that thing called fantasy football (something Romo is interested in). It could have to do with us being more about the visuals. The facts (not alternative) laid out in front of us. Whatever it might be, statistics have played a prominent role in matters of analysis in the recent football world.

When looking at Romo’s statistical brilliance during his time in Dallas, one most not go further than how he compares to the greatest quarterbacks to suit up for one of the most successful franchises in NFL history.

He ends his Cowboys career as the franchise’s all-time leader in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns and quarterback rating. He’s also second to only Troy Aikman in completions and attempts. Oh, did we mention he’s also the third-winningest quarterback in franchise history, behind only Aikman and Roger Staubach?

We understand full well that stats are inflated in the modern era. That has to be taken into account here. But Romo’s level of excellence for a long period of time surely has to place him among the best players in Cowboys franchise history. You don’t own that many career records without doing something right.

4. That one fumble 

It wasn’t exactly the butt fumble, but it set the tone for the narrative that Romo somehow couldn’t win the big game. That there was something missing from his repertoire. Something the likes of Roger Staubach, Danny White and Troy Aikman provided for spoiled Cowboys fans over a good 30-year span. It started here. It started against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2006 NFC Wild Card game.

You probably remember it. That is, if you’re old enough to actually remember a time when Bill Parcells coached a Cowboys team that had Mike Zimmer leading its defense.

We don’t really need to get into too much detail here. The situation that occurred is by now well known. Romo bobbled a potential game-winning field goal snap from 19 yards out with Dallas down a point against Seattle and just north of one minute remaining in the fourth quarter. The end result here was predictable.

For many Cowboys fans, this will be the play that defined Romo’s career with the team. He couldn’t elevate his play on the game’s grandest of stages. And with that, any comparisons to great quarterbacks in the history of the franchise was immediately thrown out the window.

5. One-team guy 

Who here would have been thrown off by the idea of Romo playing for the Houston Texans or Denver Broncos? It simply wouldn’t have looked right. And in reality, that’s the sign of a generational player. A franchise type player. Someone that played his entire career (a tremendous career) with one team.

It’s something we really have not seen in the recent history of the game. Even the likes of Emmitt Smith, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Ladainian Tomlinson played for multiple teams throughout their careers.

For Romo, his 13-year career in Dallas continued a tradition of quarterbacks of the past. Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Danny White and Don Meredith all played for only the Cowboys during their NFL careers. That’s a combined 46 years of quarterback continuity that would give teams like the Cleveland Browns a very exciting dream.

6. Team leader 

Say what you want about Romo’s postseason failures. His struggles in December. Those are well documented. And as the leader of the Cowboys, he surely deserved a lot of the blame. It’s blame that Romo himself never shied away from. That’s why he was a true leader.

A team captain for the Cowboys in all eight-plus seasons that he was a full-time starter, Romo bore the brunt of criticism from a spoiled fan base. He also kept the team together through the most difficult of times, ultimately helping the Cowboys transition from his era as starter to a new day when Dak Prescott took the mantle as the face of the franchise.

This really can’t be overstated. How Romo acted in terms of professionalism during his final season with the Cowboys played a huge role in the team’s ascension up the ranks of the NFL’s best. He was in no small part a reason for Prescott’s success under center. The press conference Romo gave to hand over the starting role to Prescott magnified this to a T.

7. Hall of Fame debate worth

Statistically, there’s little reason to believe Romo isn’t a Hall of Famer. As mentioned above, he sits among the top-two quarterbacks in Cowboys history in most passing categories. He threw for over 4,000 yards four times, 3,000-plus yards seven times and posted a 90-plus quarterback rating in seven consecutive seasons.

But Canton is not all about the stats. It’s about team-wide success, especially at the quarterback position. Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon and Fran Tarkenton are all in the Hall of Fame without having won a Super Bowl.

For Marino, that didn’t come without a ton of regular season success and one Super Bowl appearance. Fouts redefined the quarterback position under the Air Coryell system in San Diego. Moon was a trendsetter as one of the first real elite-level African-American quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Tarkenton led his Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances.

What is Romo’s defining moment? That one thing we can look to that translates to Hall of Fame worthiness. Outside of statistics in an era where quarterback numbers have been inflated, there’s really nothing here. Unfortunately, this will lead most voters to the conclusion that Romo — while tremendous during his career — is not a Hall of Famer.

8. The off-field dynamic

Romo has always been involved in his community. He gave a $1 million donation to Urban Alternative to help an adopt a school program. He also helped donate goods and services to families impacted by the attack on Dallas police officers last year.

He’s never been in trouble off the field, has been the consummate professional in the Dallas’ locker room and has a beautiful young (growing) family.

This is surely a dynamic we must look at when reviewing an otherwise divisive career. Romo has done everything asked of him (and more) to help those in need within the Dallas community. He’s done the same for his teammates off the field as well.

Oh, we would be foolish not to mention the fact that Mr. Romo himself has some good taste in the opposite sex. What man among us wouldn’t give a left arm to date Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood?

Now, settled down in his marriage with wife Candice, Romo is living the family man life.

9. The injuries

Sadly, any discussion surrounding Romo can not be completed without looking at his injuries. Here’s a guy that played a grand total of five games over the past two seasons due to collarbone and back injuries. Remember, he also missed 10 games back in 2010 with another collarbone injury.

In between, Romo has dealt with injuries to his shoulder, neck and lower-body. Needless to say, the now retired quarterback took a major beating during his playing career.

One really has to think what could have been. Romo put up the best performance of his career back in 2014, tallying 34 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions while leading the NFL in completion percentage and quarterback rating. That would ultimately be his final season as a full-time starter in the NFL.

The good news is that Romo is seemingly healthy for the first time in a while. He’s just 36 years old and has a whole life ahead of himself. He has a wife and children relying on him to be around for a while. By retiring now, the former Pro Bowler did his family and his health a service.

About the author

Vincent Frank

Vincent Frank

Editor-at-large, Sportsnaut.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi