I hope you got some good Tony Romo jokes into conversation last year, because as we head into 2012, they might be obsolete. It’s fun to ridicule bad quarterbacks. But the one prerequisite for cutting a guy down is that…he has to be a bad quarterback.
The undrafted Eastern Illinois product had been the punchline for many an NFL season, and deservedly so. While Tony Romo has played football’s most polarizing position for the league’s most polarizing team, we’ve balked at the hype levied upon him and his team from the national media, from their fans and worst of all, their owner.
I probably wasn’t the only person disappointed to see the Dallas Cowboys on the schedule for the NFL’s kickoff game, the first game of the first week of the season. While the last two kickoff games had seen perennial playoff achievers square off, the Cowboys had somehow shoe-horned themselves into the national consciousness. Again.
Inexplicably, Tony Romo would face the defending Super Bowl champs in Week 1. But one could not have drafted a better setting for a Romo Moment, and hopes abounded for a comical turnover that would help to bring his team to a come-from-ahead loss. Despite his three Pro Bowl appearances and his top-10 season last year, those unforgettable moments are the ones for which Romo has become known.
Romo had endured such a moment in MetLife Stadium—that very building—almost a year ago to the day. While running for what would have been a game-icing touchdown (when, let’s remember, a game-icing field goal would have sufficed), Romo fumbled away the football and, generally speaking, the game.
Hilarious despair ensued in Dallas, and the Cowboys would miss the playoffs, finishing exactly one game behind the Giants, who took the division and would go on to win the Super Bowl.
And it appeared that we’d be treated to such a moment in Wednesday's game, when Romo ran for a 3rd-and-short early in the second quarter. He slid head first short of a first down with all of the grace of a drunk freshman.
He didn’t fumble, but he did stumble enough to get his team late to the line for the next play. Delay of game was called—merely a misdemeanor in the spectrum of Romo-induced schadenfreude.
But on that very next play, Romo threw a pass into the hands of linebacker Michael Boley…who nearly ran it back to the house. That Romo Moment was in the bag.
Or was it? The Cowboys defense held, forcing the Giants to trot out Lawrence Tynes, who converted on the field goal to give the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Neither side seemed able to force an advance. Both teams traded punts before Romo found Dez Bryant down the right sideline for 38 yards, kicking off the most unlikely of two-minute drills. Romo followed that with a slant to Kevin Ogletree. AND THEN Romo scrambled to his right to lob another pass to Ogletree, this time in the middle of the Giants end zone.
Bam. 7-3, Cowboys.
It was like that played-out scene in the end of a bad action movie. Two Tony Romos—one good, one evil (although evil in a devilishly entertaining, sick, car-crash-on-the-side-of-the-road sort of way)—each begging to an unseen gunman to execute the other’s demise. Here, it was fascinating, as Good Romo and Evil Romo were wrapped up in a tussle for the ages, and only one Romo would emerge victorious.
Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray would pace the team’s next drive. As Dallas approached midfield, they would take to the air. A wide-open Felix Jones was overthrown. Evil Romo takes the upper hand!
But on the very next play, Romo would find Dez Bryant for a 40-yard gain. Did you think you could vanquish Good Romo so easily?
Next play: Our hero overthrows a ball to Jason Witten in the flat. Avast! With Evil Romo at the helm, no spleen is safe!
And then Romo chucked a bomb toward Hoboken for Ogletree’s second score of the game. A triumph for Good Romo! Huzzah!
Ogletree was wide open on the play, having just faked veteran cornerback Corey Webster out of his jock to find a seam down the right sideline. The fourth-year player also had a career game, finishing with eight catches for 114 yards. Those would be career highs along with whose two TDs.
But Romo wasn’t finished. He would find Miles Austin for an amazing catch and run for what would amount to be the game-winning touchdown.
One could argue that the scrutiny given to Austin (four catches, 73 yards), Dez Bryant (four catches, 85 yards) and Witten (two catches, 10 yards) gave Ogletree the long end of the straw in terms of matchups.
But Ogletree, who had just finished a stellar preseason to win that No. 3 wide receiver job, was sure to maximize those opportunities. (Conversely, the Giants’ Victor Cruz, who seemed to drop every other ball thrown at him, did not.)
And toward the end of the game, Good Romo found himself in unfamiliar territory: under center, in a division rival’s home stadium…in the victory formation. After Murray iced the game with a late first down, the Giants were out of timeouts. And Antonio Ramiro Romo was out of the proverbial doghouse.
Oh sure, Romo could just as easily throw five picks in his next game at Seattle, but that’s so unlikely. Romo and the Cowboys appear to be ready for the spotlight at long last. The NFC East, unquestionably the most underachieving division in football last year, could certainly use them.
I’m already missing those Tony Romo jokes. Hey, at least we still have Mark Sanchez to kick around.