With Tony Romo’s wife and one of their two young sons watching from near the back row, a small number of fans stood behind glass and cheered gleefully when Romo leaned on the podium to address the media.
He looked at the fans, smiled, and pumped his fist twice to a group of supporters that likely trashed him often at various points in these previous years.
This little moment should never be confused with the Super Bowl, but given the circumstances, Tony Romo earned the right to a few fist pumps.
The Cowboys’ 24-20 playoff win Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the type of game that had dogged this man, and his coach, since they “wed” in 2007. This had been the type of “big game” where these two men shrunk and would “never win” because they never had.
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Whatever happens in the rest of these playoffs, these two at least proved to themselves, and so many of us, they can do it.
It’s a nice touch that the Cowboys’ win came on a Sunday — the official day of faith — as it was roundly rewarded. Jerry Jones’ faith in Jason Garrett, which began in 2007, was rewarded. Garrett’s faith in his team was rewarded.
Garrett’s faith in Romo was rewarded. Romo’s faith in tight end Jason Witten was rewarded. And the Cowboys’ fan base, a great many of whom have faith more out of mere routine than genuine belief, had some of their belief restored as they celebrated their first playoff win since the 2009 season.
Sunday’s result is what Jones believed he would have when he put his faith in something called The Process. That day was Nov. 8, 2010 — when he fired Wade Phillips and made his golden-child offensive coordinator the interim head coach.
It will only go mentioned 343,543 times this week: The Cowboys will return to Green Bay on Sunday for a playoff game; the last time they were there was Nov. 7, 2010.
“My rookie year,” safety Barry Church said as he walked out of the locker room. “We lost 45-3.”
Actually, it was much closer. It was 45-7.
To see where this team, and this franchise, have come since that embarrassing final defeat under Uncle Wade starts with the sometimes obstinate faith Jerry has put in this quarterback, and this coach, when the results were not there.
I asked Romo if he felt vindication after this win.
“I wouldn’t use that term, ‘vindication’” he said.
Why not? There is no other big-name NFL QB that is more beleaguered and ridiculed than Romo. At some point or another since 2007, we have all sports-kicked this man into the Trinity River no less than 100 times. We all did it because this is the type of win that routinely eluded him.
“These are hard wins to come by. Just to give yourself a chance to win the division is hard,” Romo said. “We haven’t had very good teams and we still had a chance. It’s still hard to advance. ... It comes down to a few plays here and there.”
The types of plays that he may have made in a regular season win over the Rams or Vikings, but never in this situation. Despite all of his success, production ability and talent, Romo had been defined by his mistakes more than anything else.
It deserves to be mentioned repeatedly that Romo is doing this on a bad back that will never improve much more than it is today.
In the Cowboys’ game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, there was Coach Process showing faith in his offense — and that offensive line — by going for it on fourth-and-6 from the Lions’ 42 with 6 minutes remaining. Romo had been sacked six times already in the game.
On that play, there was Romo showing faith in his bestest buddy, Witten, to be where he needed to be to create space from a covering linebacker and turn in a 21-yard reception.
All of the faith eventually led to a touchdown, the lead, and a playoff victory.
“They have had some highs and lows, but they have stayed the course and had parallel careers,” veteran Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said after the game. “This a little different in that Jason was an offensive coordinator and that bond started then. There is a lot of satisfaction in that. I would say there is a little bit of [vindication] in that.”
Most head coaches are linked to the success of their quarterbacks, but the relationship between Romo and Garrett is unlike any other in the NFL. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are linked through wins, as are John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco, Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin, Ben Roethlisberger/Mike Tomlin, etc.
Yet Romo and Garrett remained together despite having none of that success. Sunday was Garrett’s first playoff win, and Romo’s second.
When the Cowboys fell behind 14-0 on Sunday, they did not abandon a running game that has been their best asset all season. Romo didn’t hurry up and force the game, but rather waited for the Lions’ pass rush to tire, and eventually plays began to open.
The game, and the lead, eventually was theirs because they never altered from the belief in what they were doing, or each other.
The maturation process of these two has been slow, and sometimes painful, that to see their work and patience and faith all rewarded is encouraging, and worth a few fist pumps.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697