The name will be withheld to protect the innocent, but a longtime coach of the Dallas Cowboys who worked with Roger Staubach, Danny White and Troy Aikman swears Tony Romo is better than the first two.
“He’s a better athlete than Roger, and he’s a better passer than Roger,” the coach told me this week. “The one area I don’t know about is I don’t know what kind of leader Tony is. I’m not around the team. Roger was the best leader there ever was. Just as a player, Tony is better.”
Five years ago, we would have all laughed at the idea that Tony Romo was better than any of the Cowboys’ Holy Trinity — Roger, Troy and Dandy Don (or Danny, if that’s your thing). Today, Romo is part of the discussion. Ultimately, the finish will determine where he fits in with this crew.
While we are all still collectively scared to death Tony Romo’s back will explode the next time he hits his recliner, as far as The Man himself is concerned, we should all stop worrying about it. Captain America has good advice not just for Romo, but all of us — just play, and whatever happens will happen.
“I saw him the other night and he says he feels great; he’s excited about another five years,” Staubach told me this week in a phone interview. “I think he’ll get another three to five years, unless he injures his back again.”
There is that four-letter word again: back.
Romo is 35. At that point in his career, The Man had exactly three highly productive seasons remaining in his Hall of Fame career. Like Romo, Roger had suffered a major injury before, as well as six concussions. As frightened as we all are that Tony Romo will suffer a career-ending back injury, thus killing this team’s chances of any success, there is nothing anybody can do about it.
“You just have to be a little lucky when it comes to this,” Staubach said. “The game is such that you have to play it the way you play it. Tony really is a magician, and that’s what makes him so good. He breaks out of the pocket and he makes plays and he does his thing. You can’t take that away from him, but he has a lot of good people protecting him, too.
“When you are out there playing, you can’t worry about it. I never worried about it when I played.”
Anybody who watched Romo play last season could see he had the look of a man who very much worried about his back. How could he not? Think about what is riding on it.
The Cowboys limited his practice time, and after one game Romo said, “As long as it’s not the back, it’s OK” — and then knocked on the wood podium for good luck. You can never be too careful.
This is the first time in three years Romo has been able to participate in all of the team’s off-season workouts. He has been repeatedly saying how good he feels, and we have no choice but to believe him.
For those of us too young to remember, the major injury Roger suffered was a torn right shoulder in the 1972 season that forced him to miss the final 10 regular-season games.
“It changed my career for sure,” Staubach said. “I did have a number of concussions, but at that time we didn’t benchmark them. We just had it, and if you were feeling better, you got back in the next week. I guess knowing what we know now about concussions, I would be worried about them. The only thing I really worried about was my knee, because I ran a lot. In our day, if you tore an ACL you were going to have problems. That was about all I worried about.”
The only way Romo has three to five years remaining on his career is if he is as lucky as Roger. The only way the Cowboys are any good is if Romo is lucky. There is no Plan B.
After nine highly successful, numerically impressive seasons as the quarterback of the Cowboys, Romo is very much a part of the discussion as one of the greatest ever to play the position for this franchise.
One longtime Cowboys coach at least thinks Romo is better than Roger and Danny. Exactly where Romo finishes among that crew will be determined over the final few years of what has been a thrilling, inspiring and sometimes maddening career.
Like Roger said, Romo is going to have to be a little lucky, and we shouldn’t worry about the rest.
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