By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Tony Romo might be a fool in love, or he might just be a fool, or he might just be the Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys have celebrated for the last 15 months.
We want to say all will be revealed Sunday afternoon in Irving, where the Cowboys will play the New York Giants in the divisional round of NFC playoffs, but we know that isn’t true. Whatever happens, it’s just one more page in this page-turner, another verse in a popular song.
But this game is, at least, a turning point, because someone is going to be proven wrong. It could be that Romo will be proven wrong. Maybe he really can’t balance his high-profile social life with NFL competition. It could also be that the media mother hens, in the Metroplex and elsewhere, will have to understand, if they are able, that Romo’s way works.
In any case, Romo’s movements through the social and professional sports scenes in the last month or so deviate in no way from the pattern established since he became the Cowboys’ starting quarterback in the middle of 2006. On the field and off, Romo plays hard and spontaneously. He runs into trouble and finds his way out, turning imminent disasters into huge gains.
Once again, Romo has raised the stakes by putting himself into the hole. It’s the Tony Romo way. This is the kid with a losing record as a high school quarterback in Burlington, WI. This is the kid who couldn’t draw interest from major college football programs, then couldn’t coax the NFL combine scouts into drafting him. Now, he’s a hero to millions. He knows his way up from the bottom.
The question now is whether Romo is headed back to the bottom, which really ought to be a ridiculous question, but which really isn’t. Over the airwaves and in the street, Romo has to prove himself today, for couple reasons.
Most famously, Romo took three days off at the direction of Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. In itself, no big deal. But he took the three days in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with Jessica Simpson and Jason Witten. So, scandal erupts.
Romo, for his part, seems unconcerned about the general response to his vacation. After all, the very idea that three days in Mexico with Jessica Simpson could boil into such an outrage says volumes more about the media and Cowboys fans than it says about Romo.
It also says quite a bit about the Cowboys, the Jerry Jones Cowboys who’ve spent all of their existence writing lurid headlines about personality and less of their existence writing uplifting headlines about winning. Submitted for your approval, take a look at this quotation from Jones about Romo in today’s edition of Newsday:
“There’s not one concern I have about his relationship and how he relaxes and what he does with his time. The Cowboys never leave my life. I could be in another country and they never leave my life. You’re always thinking about it. I see that in him. I don’t think the Cowboys ever leave his mind …
” … His star power, I think he’s a natural. I think it’s good for sports, I think it’s good for the NFL, I think it’s good for the Cowboys. It’s not the first time I’ve seen that with our teams, and it has to be coupled with success. I think it’s really good for our team and I encourage it. It’s in the Dallas Cowboys’ best interests for key players to have a flair. There is an entertainment aspect to sports. If you take it too far, it’s not good, but it’s an important part. I think it’s great for our fans to have a quarterback as interesting as he is.”
There you have it, from the boss. To those who believe Romo isn’t doing his job when he runs off the Mexico with Jessica Simpson, there you have it. That is his job.
Listening to football commentators say the quarterback position on the Dallas Cowboys is a unique position in sports, it’s clear they don’t understand the position’s uniqueness the same way Tony Romo and Jerry Jones understand it.
Romo’s job isn’t merely to produce after the snap. His job also requires that he imbue the Cowboys with glamour and show business intrigue. Being a freewheeling quarterback and a dashing fellow, besides, Romo is uniquely suited to the job Jones wants done, and he’s doing it quite well.
Viewing the job with a little less media savvy, many observers, including those in the media, wonder how running off to Mexico with an actress and a teammate can help Romo concentrate. In the old days, they would tell you, quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Roger Staubach would never have distracted themselves with women when the playoffs approached, as if these fellows didn’t have wives.
Really, though, how is everyone so certain Romo could concentrate any less on a Mexican get-away? If he stays home, do the usual pals and hangers on just disappear? Does the media stop calling him because he spent the three days at home? Does his agent stop calling him with deals because he stayed home for those three days? In other words, isn’t it possible that going to Mexico with a couple friends lets in fewer distractions?
Football fans are an odd breed, compared with baseball and basketball fans. Football fans, betting so much as they do, wrongly believe they’ve made some kind of investment in a football team and that, therefore, they have something to say about how players conduct their personal relations. Football players are supposed to abstain from sexual activity for several days before each game. Meanwhile, it’s understood that a baseball or basketball player goes on the road, finds a different woman every night and plays at a high level the next day.
Perception being what it is, Romo is under the gun when the Cowboys play the Giants. Last season ended when Romo dropped the snap on a field goal attempt that would have won a playoff game for the Cowboys in Seattle. Romo already is faced with that hurdle, the imperative to prove that he can win a playoff game.
Now that he ran off for Mexico with Jessica Simpson to spend a few days, Romo has upped the ante and created even more pressure, even if it’s not the pressure he’s putting on himself. If, indeed, Romo plays poorly in this game, he will face a critical backlash and an army of detractors such as he has never imagined.
But that’s just Tony Romo, doing his job. And, as always, he might do surprisingly well at it.