This past Sunday (Oct 6, 2013) saw an epic NFL football game. Tony Romo went toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning, and the Cowboys and Broncos were tied late in the game.
Then Dallas got the ball back with just over two minutes to play. And I thought, "For his sake, I hope Romo doesn't pull a Romo." Many on Twitter, using the hashtag #Romo, wondered the same thing.
Well, he did. The Broncos picked off his pass, ran down the clock, and kicked a last-second field goal to win 51-48.
Romo threw for five touchdowns and over 500 yards that day. But his lone interception was his last play of the game.
Such has been what he's remembered for: late-minute mistakes in nationally televised games. He became a starter in the middle of the 2006 season, and since then he's won all of one playoff game.
On the other hand, what he's achieved has been remarkable. He came from a 1-AA university, signed as an undrafted free agent, and rode the bench for two before moving to starter. Just as 6th-round choice Tom Brady derailed #1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe's career, undrafted Romo ended it.
And, Romo's won 60% of his games with a very high career passer rating.
So, why all the criticism?
There were a few factors, such as perceived distractions. Soon after becoming the starter, he began dating A-list starlets. Then, in the off-season, he'd compete in golf tournaments. Both seemed unseemly; after all, Tom Brady didn't marry the world's top model until after he had three Super Bowl rings, and wasn't known for off-field hobbies.
But Romo's main problem is, he's quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
It remains, perhaps, the most presitigious job in sports. Which is kind of ironic, since only two Hall of Famers (Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman) ever occupied it (granted, the team started only in 1960, whereas the NFL started 40 years earlier.) Before Romo, just two others, Don Meredith and Danny White, ever did a good job for an extended number of years. On ESPN's Outside the Lines on October 7, 2013, he was called the most divisive player among Cowboy fans since Meredith.
So how did it get this way? What did Romo ever do to deserve this criticism, when he's played as well or better than Brett Favre ever did in his post-MVP years?
It goes back to Tex Schramm. the President and General Manager of the Cowboys until Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989. Shramm was astute at marketing and positioning.
For instance: the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. That was Schramm's idea.
But most importantly, as the NFL was merging with the AFL, Schramm positioned the Cowboys to be in the "NFC East" Division, alongside the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and (at the time), St. Louis Cardinals. It made no sense, geographically. But the move, at the very time the Cowboys were emerging as the strongest franchise in the NFC, proved pivotal. Three of their rivals were the three dominant media markets on the East Coast. Within a few years, NFL Films, based in New Jersey, called them "America's Team."
They remain America's most popular and most hated team.
Which is why Romo's every mistake is analyzed to a degree no other quarterback's is.
Yes, this all comes ith the territory of making tens of millions of dollars per year. I'm not losing sleep for Romo. But one wonders what his career would be like if he played for Carolina or Cleveland all these years. The main complaint would likely be, "Why don't you give Romo some help so he can win a championship?" instead of, "Wha't wrong with Romo?"