Romo’s surgery underscores Cowboys’ drama

01/11/2014 11:43 PM

01/18/2014 4:41 PM

It’s the Shakespearean tragedy that just won’t end.

The aging king, his empire in tatters. His son, the dimpled and oft-disappointing prince, now wounded in battle.

Nay, a cloak of anguish and uncertainty hovers over the Dallas Cowboys kingdom like a medieval fog.

Will the persecuted prince recover? Will the king live long enough to ride in glory one last time? Will he let Callahan, the Earl of Third-and-Long, call the plays next autumn?

So sitteth the Cowboys this off-season. Always with the drama.

I come today, however, to praise Tony Romo, not to bury him. He rests at home from back surgery, no small flesh wound.

An NFL quarterback doesn’t just dial up his doctor and ask for a microdiscectomy. Back problems don’t just crop up overnight.

In Romo’s case, his back surgery earlier this month was his second in eight months. And while Owner Jones remains purposefully vague on the specifics of Romo’s earlier “cyst removal” procedure, it’s not normal medical procedure to incur a back injury on Sunday — as the Cowboys claim — and then be operated upon a few days later.

Romo was bothered by the back all season, in my layman’s opinion. I think the “cyst procedure” was more serious than Jones cares to admit. I think he managed the pain, numbness, whatever — like all back patients — with medication and rest, whenever he could get it.

And somehow, Romo still went out and threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns and brought the Cowboys to the threshold of the postseason. A remarkable performance, given what happened when it was all over.

Yet, as the season progressed, it was easy to conclude that something entirely different was going on.

Romo was underthrowing deep balls that he used to float effortlessly into the streaking arms of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. He wasn’t scrambling as much. He appeared to have lost a step in his ability to escape an oncoming pass rush. And a few times, he opted for that curl-into-fetal-position thing, though no one had yet touched him.

I thought we were seeing a 33-year-old quarterback whose skills, for whatever reason, were starting to decline. But as it turns out, shame on me. Romo was hurt.

It explains more than a few things, including the quarterback’s quick rush to the operating table after the Washington game.

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan, Owner Jones claimed that Romo’s back surgery “was not dramatic” and that “All thumbs are up on Tony.”

Jones explained that the timing was designed to get the clock rolling on Romo’s recovery and planned return in time for off-season OTAs.

Whoa, doctor. Why the rush? It’s not as if Tony doesn’t know the playbook.

The recovery period for herniated disk surgery is said to be around three months. Troy Aikman was 26 when he had disk surgery, and he came back that ensuing season to play all 16 games and lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

Romo, however, will be 34 next season. Forget that tripe about him really being like a 31-year-old since he didn’t play for his first three NFL seasons. His body is 34, and he now has the surgical scars to show for it.

The medical odds seem to be in his favor. The New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul had back surgery and came back to play in the same season, and Romo isn’t lugging around 270 pounds.

But some back problems never completely go away. There are no contingency plans for replacing Romo, no heir apparent, no salary cap relief clause.

Trade him? And just who would be interested in a 34-year-old quarterback with a $108 million contract coming off two back surgeries?

In the Cowboys’ never-ending drama, all eyes this off-season will be on the dimpled prince. His surgery explains much.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton


Gil LeBreton has been entertaining and informing Star-Telegram readers for more than 34 years. He worked for newspapers in his hometown of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Kansas City and Baltimore before finding his true home in Texas. Over the years he's covered 25 Super Bowls, 16 Olympic Games (9 summer, 7 winter), soccer's World Cup, the Masters, the Tour de France, saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

A Vietnam veteran, Gil and his wife Gail have two children -- J.P., a computer game designer in San Francisco, and Elise, an actress living in New York. Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at

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