IRVING -- In the 52-year history of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo's ribs now stick out.
The quarterback made himself part of franchise lore with a courageous performance last week against the San Francisco 49ers, leading the Cowboys to a come-from-behind victory after suffering a fractured rib on the third play of the game.
A day after the game, in which he threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns, an exam found evidence of a punctured lung.
"It was a hard hit. You could tell when he went down, he was hurt," ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Ron Jaworski said. "But I love what he did. He played. He went as far as he could. Hey, that wins the locker room, man."
Romo is tough, all right. But he's not the only tough guy to wear a Cowboys helmet. Walt Garrison was once said to have cut his thumb so bad, it almost fell off his hand -- yet he taped it up and played the next day. Don Meredith broke almost everything in his body, his old teammates will say.
Safeties Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris almost couldn't recognize their bodies after some games.
Who can ever forget the pounding that fullback Darryl Johnston used to take for the sake of Emmitt Smith, who himself once nearly single-handedly won a game for the Cowboys despite a separated right shoulder.
"There are a lot of players throughout the years, and certainly throughout my time as a player here and more recently as a coach here, where I've seen guys have that warrior-type mentality where they just fight through it [and say] 'I'm playing,'" Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Sometimes they're dragging a leg, or their shoulder is hanging off of them, or whatever the case might be. But they just keep playing. If you have guys on your team that are like that, your team is made up of those kind of guys, you have a chance to have a really good football team."
It's one of the reasons the Cowboys have won championships. Defensive end Charles Haley played in Super Bowl XXX despite having back surgery just weeks earlier. Quarterback Troy Aikman led a victory in Super Bowl XXVIII two weeks after being knocked out of the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I broke my thumb when I hit it on a guy's helmet," Harris said. "Waters tore his knee up in a preseason game in Seattle - tore his ACL or MCL, and he played with it from then on. He broke his arm and had a metal rod from his shoulder to his elbow. Lee Roy Jordan would have a separated shoulder that would come out of place.
"I have a new respect for Tony Romo. I know what it's like to play with cracked ribs."
Romo isn't the first, but he's the latest. His game last week will stand out for a long time, if only because it got him and the team back on track after his own mistakes a week earlier.
In the words of owner Jerry Jones, the battered Romo produced a victory in San Francisco the Cowboys flat-out had to have.
"This franchise needed this win in the worst way," Jones said. "After what happened to us last year, to leave here with two losses was going to be a hell of a hurdle for us to overcome. So that was as meaningful as anything for our franchise and our future this year to come in and contribute to a win. We needed it."
Here's a look at five gutsy performances by Cowboys players in the franchise's 52-year history:
Meredith in Cleveland
When: Dec. 21, 1968 What hurt: Punctured lung
The performance: Don Meredith was the Cowboys' first great quarterback, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call him their toughest. He played nine seasons for the Cowboys, won the NFL Player of the Year award in 1966 and earned a reputation for playing through injury after injury. The week before the Eastern Conference championship game at Cleveland in 1968, he spent time in the hospital with pneumonia and a punctured lung. He played in the playoff game that day, but he was intercepted three times and was pulled in favor of Craig Morton. It was his last game with the Cowboys.
Garrison in San Francisco
When: Jan. 3, 1971 What hurt: Fractured collarbone and ankle
The performance: Walt Garrison, part of a three-man rushing attack that included Duane Thomas and Calvin Hill, did his painful part in the 17-10 victory that put the Cowboys in their first Super Bowl. Despite a fractured collarbone and ankle, he rushed for more than 100 yards and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass for the winning points. It didn't surprise anyone, especially not safety Charlie Waters, who said Garrison, while whittling, once cut his thumb so badly it dangled from his hand, yet he taped it back to his hand and played the next day.
Aikman vs. the Eagles
When: Sept. 15, 1991 What hurt: Everything
The performance: The final line wasn't much to look at for Troy Aikman: 12 completions, 16 attempts, 112 yards, three interceptions, no touchdowns. In fact, it was mostly awful. But it had to feel better than being sacked 11 times. That's how many times the Philadelphia Eagles, led by a Buddy Ryan defense that included Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown and Reggie White, got to him. Aikman didn't blink. He got up every time. "I'll give Troy credit, he hung in there and took it," Simmons said afterward. "He's a tough guy, and he had a tough day."
Emmitt in New York
When: Jan. 2, 1994 What hurt: Separated right shoulder
The performance: Emmitt Smith suffered a separated shoulder with 1:58 left in the first half. The Cowboys faced the New York Giants for the NFC East title and a week off to start the playoffs. Unable to carry the ball in his right arm or reach for a pass, Smith rushed 32 times for 168 yards, 59 after the injury. He caught 10 passes, four after the injury. In overtime, with a thigh pad taped to his shoulder for extra protection, Smith led the Cowboys into range for Eddie Murray's game-winning field goal. The Cowboys took their week off and rolled to a second consecutive Super Bowl championship.
Deion and the punt return
When: Oct. 24, 1998 What hurt: Concussion
The performance: This wouldn't happen today. NFL teams know a lot more about concussions now. But in 1998, Deion Sanders surprised the trainers, coaches, players and fans at Texas Stadium by coming out of the halftime locker room, finding his helmet and putting himself in the game -- despite having suffered a concussion in the first quarter on a helmet-to-helmet hit with the Washington Redskins' long-snapper, 290-pound Dan Turk. In the fourth quarter, Sanders returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown, and the Cowboys won 38-20.