Why Tony Romo Is the LeBron James of the NFL

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IMay 11, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 11:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after the Cowboys scored against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at Cowboys Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

At the risk of comparing sports apples to sports oranges, I submit the above opinion that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is the NFL’s version of LeBron James

Certainly both players have their staunch advocates (either die-hard fans of their respective teams or just people who support them) and vicious critics (either die-hard fans of their respective teams’ rival or just people who hate them).

Still, that’s not the chief reason I propose they mirror one another.

Neither is the fact that, at times, both men’s let’s say “off-the-field-or-court” lives have been fodder for Twitter, the newspapers and Internet, as well as ESPN and all their talking heads.  I’m talking of course about Romo’s relationship with Jessica Simpson, his pre-playoffs vacation to Mexico, James and “The Decision,” James and his receding hair line, James and his commercials, James and his tweets, etc.

No, the main cause for this suggested parallel is strictly about their current reputation and their still-being-formed legacy as professional athletes—and only as professional athletes.

Both have tremendous expectations on their shoulders. That’s what happens when you're dubbed “The Chosen One” at 18 years old, or when you’re the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, a franchise that has a pair of Super Bowl MVPs and Hall of Famers (Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman) who won multiple world championships.

And since Romo and James both play team sports, those great expectations start and end with titles, something neither has achieved yet since each became a professional in 2003.

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There is no denying that both James and Romo are among the premier players in their respective leagues. (On a side note, while James is arguably the best player in the NBA and certainly on the short list for that honor, few would say that Romo is the best player in the NFL, but he’s still top tier).

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on against the New York Knicks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 6, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expre
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Both have racked up excellent individual credentials: multiple scoring titles, MVPs, multiple finals appearances for James, and three Pro Bowl selections and several team passing records for Romo.

But without that championship it means very little. If both men retired today, that failure to produce at least one ring would be just as much a part of their legacy as anything they achieved as an individual.

Still, there are countless (veteran) players in the NFL and NBA that have yet to hoist up the Lombardi or O’Brien Trophy.

What truly links these two is the dismissive approach so many people have to them as they climb the ladder towards a title.

I’m not the first person to point out the lose-lose status of James’ career. First of all, if he wins a scoring title or another MVP, people will instantly dismiss it and say, “Let’s see him do it in the playoffs.” More to the point, he has to “do it in the playoffs” by hitting big shots in crunch time for anyone to really give him credit.

But even if he were to score 25 points in the fourth quarter of every playoff game, against wins over New York, then perhaps Indiana, then maybe Boston, no one will really care until he does that in the finals.

And again, even if he were to piece together a historic run in this year’s upcoming finals—let’s say he dominates Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a four-game sweep—that still won’t be enough.

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys warms up for play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers December 17, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

And not just because some people want to stick an asterisk on it since this was a strike-shortened season. Plenty of people will say, “He only did so because he had Dwyane Wade.” That doesn’t even factor in the expectation that he win multiple titles, either because Michael Jordan won six or because James himself talked about winning a ridiculous eight rings.

NBA basketball is a little bit different than the NFL. After all, as great as Joe Montana or John Elway or Brett Favre were, the most titles any of them won was four, let alone five like Magic Johnson, six like Jordan or 11 like Bill Russell.

So on some level, if Romo were to win even one Super Bowl, his career would be vindicated. Take Favre and Peyton Manning: they only won one and they aren’t really criticized for not duplicating those titles.

Still, that same sense of “nothing is ever good enough” seems to drag down Tony Romo and give his detractors ammunition.

Romo is often considered a “choke artist,” never playing big in big games, especially the postseason.

Coincidentally, that’s something that was tossed around about James at times during last year’s collapse and subsequent finals loss to the Mavericks.

But back to Romo: there were times last year when he was dead on in the final minutes. That gutsy performance in San Francisco comes to mind, as does his effort the next week in a win over Washington.

LANDOVER, MD  - DECEMBER 30:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys passes against the Washington Redskins on December 30, 2007 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Still, he might as well be Garo Yepremian out there, according to some people. It doesn’t matter that he’s had some outstanding performances throwing the ball (300- and 400-yard games, multiple three- and four-touchdown days) and is repeatedly in contention for the NFL passer rating title and a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster. People constantly say, “Let’s see it in the playoffs,” just like LeBron James’ critics say about him.

Worse yet, we have seen Romo play well in the playoffs: he was outstanding (23-for-35 for 244 yards, two TDs, zero INTs) in a blowout of the rival Eagles during the 2009 Wild Card round. And while his botched hold at the end of his postseason debut in Seattle has become infamous, don’t forget that it was his passing that moved Dallas 70 yards in the final minutes to set up that attempt.

All that hasn’t come even close to absolving him of failures in the 2007 Divisional round at home against the Giants or the 2009 Division round on the road in Minnesota—or just the Cowboys inability to get to the playoffs the last two seasons, let alone get to the Super Bowl, let alone win a Super Bowl.

In short, Romo could open the 2012 season—on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions and archrivals New York Giants on a nationally televised game—with a blistering five-touchdown effort in a decisive Cowboys win, and critics would say, “Let’s see him do that next week.”

He could “do that” again the next week and every other week after that, and critics would say “Let’s see it in the playoffs.”

He could put up similar awesome performances in the divisional round, and critics would say, “Let’s see him do that in the NFC Championship,” then—should Dallas win—they would say, “Let’s see him do that in Super Bowl XLVII.”

Should Romo lead the Cowboys to a triumphant victory next February at the Superdome by way of a less-than stellar stat-line, plenty critics will point out that he didn’t complete that many passes or that Dallas only won because of DeMarcus Ware or DeMarco Murray or that trio of fine pass catchers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten.

And if he were to shatter the Super Bowl record and toss seven touchdowns or throw for 400 yards in a blowout of their AFC counterpart, those same haters will probably say, “Well, let’s see him repeat.” 


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