SEATTLE -- Surely, time heals.
And six years is a lifetime in the NFL.
New experiences bring something to the forefront, helping you move on.
But some things can't be, won't be, forgotten, especially when they are considered a permanent stain on your legacy -- right or wrong, fair or not.
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And so it is with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and the infamous bobbled snap on the potential game-winning field-goal attempt in the final moments of the 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2006 NFC wild-card playoffs. It was a nightmarish conclusion to what had been a storybook season for Romo, a former undrafted free agent who replaced veteran Drew Bledsoe early in the year and led the Cowboys on a magical run to the playoffs.
"Shoot, it feels like I was 10 years old back then," said Romo, who initially laughed when asked about the play in anticipation of his return to Seattle today for the first time since the bobble. "I think that's just one of those situations where you took it as it was, a disappointing loss, which was very tough at the time. What you do is you get better."
That he did.
Romo has become one of the league's best quarterbacks with a 48-30 record and three Pro Bowl appearances while surpassing Super Bowl champions Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman as the most prolific passer in team history.
Yet, the bobbled snap is considered the defining moment of his career.
It's always brought up by fans and the media in a LeBron James-like fashion with his failures highlighted more than his successes -- namely because of the Cowboys' poor performances in December and January and playoff letdowns during his tenure.
It all began with the bobbled snap.
Deep snapper L.P. Ladoucer, one of just nine Cowboys who remain from that team, said it was just bad luck and blamed the slick new K ball, which is used for field goals.
"Back then we had different rules with the K ball," Ladoucer said. "They were only allowed 15 to 20 minutes to brush them before the game, and they only got to do two or three balls. The fourth or fifth ball or whatever ball we used on that play never got brushed, so the film was still on it. It made it a little slicker. It was just bad luck. We could have won that game."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remembers the play and game as if it were yesterday, saying he was speechless when Romo dropped the snap on what was a chip-shot, 19-yard field goal attempt by kicker Martin Gramatica with 1:19 to play.
"It was surreal," Jones said. "At the time, it didn't really soak in until you had a chance to realize the consequences of it."
Among the consequences, according to Jones, was a possible long run in the playoffs and perhaps a trip to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks lost to the Chicago Bears the following week. The Bears beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game and lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.
Jones believes the Cowboys could have ridden a hot Romo all the way.
"Tony was really catching his stride," Jones said. "I think we would've played well the ensuing week, probably against Chicago. We could have easily have gone on a run when you look at what teams like New York did as recently as last year. I always look at what might have been."
The consequences also included the retirement of legendary coach Bill Parcells.
"I do think if he knew how special Tony was going to be, obviously that would have played in his mind," tight end Jason Witten said. "It would be hard to retire after that if you go to the second round of the playoffs. A play like that, at his age, I'm sure laid heavy on his thoughts."
Witten also remembers how devastated Romo was after the game and the months that followed.
"He was crushed because he felt he let others down in that situation," Witten said. "You assume that is going to be a chip-in right there and we are going on to the second round of the playoffs. All that talk that went on for so long about getting the first playoff win, that would have never existed. It was an emotional deal."
It certainly didn't help that Romo instantly became the butt of a national joke that somewhat lingers still to this day.
New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton got off the first shot at the Pro Bowl a few weeks later when he made a crack about Romo holding on field goals in a team meeting.
"I think he laughed out of respect," Witten said. "I'm not going to speak for Tony, but I know I felt I wanted to punch him at that moment."
Romo doesn't look back and think about what might have been if not for the fumble.
"At the end of the day you never look back and say [what if], what you do is you learn," Romo said. "That's for all the situations."
Romo responded with a brilliant season in 2007, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record while setting team records for touchdowns, passing yards, completions and 300-yard games.
That's when Jones knew he had someone special in Romo.
"He never sits still or thinks in the now," Jones said. "He's always trying to think ahead, get better, different circumstances and how it can help him be a better player and better for the Cowboys."
"We really saw him elevate his game that next year in '07 and put himself in the category of an elite quarterback by the way he played. That's kind of when it started," Witten said.
If this is truly the year for the Cowboys to make a long run in the playoffs and possibly to the Super Bowl, it's fitting that the journey includes a return to Seattle, giving Romo a chance to exorcise some old demons.
Even though he says he has moved on, the competitor in him will remember today and give him even more motivation from the moment that he will never forget.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.