How can Cowboys ignore Romo’s back after seeing Harrison?

05/15/2014 11:15 PM

05/15/2014 11:26 PM

After two back surgeries in eight months, there was every reason for his team to worry about his return.

But it forged ahead, hoping for the best.

His rehab is going well, the team optimistically reported. He looks as good as new, his teammates insisted.

Too bad about the Texas Rangers’ Matt Harrison, whose pitching career is now in jeopardy.

But I’m talking about the other “recovering” double-back surgery patient in town, quarterback Tony Romo.

While the Rangers are sounding alarms and issuing flak vests, preparing for life without Harrison — and without lefty Martin Perez, who faces Tommy John surgery — the Dallas Cowboys are burying their heads in their Lombardis, tidying up the room for Romo’s assumed glorious return.

I hope he makes it. A Cowboys season is much more fun to chronicle with Tony Romo in the middle of it.

But a funny thing about back surgeries. As pitcher Harrison reminded the Rangers on Tuesday night, nothing is ever certain once an athlete has had a spinal discectomy.

Romo, who had disk surgery near the end of last season, turned 34 years old four weeks ago. He is the fifth-oldest starting quarterback in the National Football League.

No matter. Romo’s best is still ahead of him, they’ve been saying at Valley Ranch since the anesthesia — Tony’s, not Owner Jones’ — wore off.

Romo, it’s been suggested, is not really that old in NFL years. He mostly sat during an early 2 1/2-year apprenticeship.

He did sit, but his back is still 34 years old, as his two surgical procedures would seem to indicate. Matt Harrison is 28, by the way.

Two different guys, two different backs, of course. But one’s return to action was postponed during spring training because he slept on an overly soft mattress. Harrison didn’t have to withstand any collisions from 250-pound linemen.

Romo is going to have to, no matter how many offensive linemen owner Jerry Jones drafts. Trauma comes with the quarterback position. And there should be the concern.

Speaking to DallasCowboys.com at a United Way announcement last month, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said he expects Romo to be ready to go this coming season.

“But to say that, ‘Hey, he’s ahead of schedule and everything’s going fine,’ I’m not sure how you can really measure that here in April,” Aikman said.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys continue to do just that. With the 16th pick in last week’s NFL Draft, Owner Jones passed on selecting Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.

Too much “Elvis” baggage, Jones said. Romo is the Cowboys’ quarterback, and he even called Tony before the draft to reassure him of that.

In comparing Manziel’s situation to drafting Elvis, Owner Jones said Romo was the franchise’s George Strait.

Let me make another analogy, however — Harrison. Who’s to say, before Romo has even taken a snap under game conditions or, heaven forbid, taken a hit with earnest intent? The Cowboys do play that Seattle defense this season.

Romo again produced great numbers last year, throwing for 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Something seemed different about him, however, in the course of the 2013 season. He randomly underthrew deep balls, he didn’t scramble as often, and he seemed to be a step slower when faced with an oncoming pass rush.

And despite a second “Romo-friendly” draft with accompanying accommodations, Romo eventually was too injured last December to play in the final, most important game of the season.

What’s he going to be like after undergoing a second back surgery?

As good as ever, Jones and head coach Jason Garrett have been saying. But as Aikman — who retired, at age 34, mostly because of back problems — said, I don’t know how they can make that assessment yet.

Owner Jones may well have made the worst draft decision in franchise history by passing on Manziel.

Back problems can be chronic and recurrent. Romo may be one of the lucky ones and avoid further troubles.

But for Owner Jones to be so smug and certain in May about Romo’s outlook isn’t realistic. He needs only to call his baseball neighbors in Arlington to be reminded of that.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

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 gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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