Tony Romo was short and to the point when asked if he looks at the New York Giants' two most recent Super Bowl rings and wonders, "Why not us?"
"No," Romo said.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback does, however, want what Eli Manning has.
"I think you're always playing the game to reach the ultimate goal," Romo said. "That's why you work as hard as you do and do the things you can day in and day out to give yourself the best chance. It's something you're always searching for and grinding out every day to reach that. So they obviously have done that. That's why we're as hungry as we are."
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Manning created debate during the summer of 2011 when he went on a New York radio station and declared himself in the same class as Tom Brady. It was born out of a question about whether Manning considered himself elite.
Manning proceeded to go out and beat Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl for a second time. Debate over.
"He's one of the top five quarterbacks in the league, man. Hands down," Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher said of Manning.
No longer does anyone question whether Manning is an elite quarterback. The only question now is whether he is THE elite quarterback.
Evidence points to that.
Manning's 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 1:13 left last week against the Washington Redskins was the 22nd time in the regular season that he has brought the Giants back from a fourth-quarter deficit. Two of his comebacks were in Cowboys Stadium, including last season's 37-34 win.
"It's kind of like when Michael Jordan had the ball," Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. "You knew he was going to take that last-second shot. You always felt like he was going to make it until it didn't go in. That's kind of how we feel with Eli and that offense when we need a game-winning touchdown or a game-winning score at the end."
The Giants owe their two most recent Vince Lombardi Trophies to Manning. His 32-yard miracle throw to David Tyree with 58 seconds left in Super Bowl XLII was called the biggest play in Super Bowl history by NFL Films. Then, he had a perfect pass to Mario Manningham for 38 yards on the first play of the Giants' game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLVI in February.
The comebacks, the rings, the two Super Bowl MVP awards changed the perception of Manning.
It is exactly what Romo not only wants but needs for career fulfillment.
"We know what the expectations are, and until you achieve that and have that success, that's going to happen," said Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, one of Romo's closest friends. "I think within this room, there are a lot of guys who believe in him, believe that he's an elite quarterback, none more than me. But until you have that type of success [that Manning has had], it's going to happen. It happened with Eli. It happens with a lot of quarterbacks."
Romo, 32, almost certainly will hold every major team passing record before he calls it a career. He needs only nine touchdown passes to surpass Troy Aikman's 165. Romo is fourth in attempts (2,813), second in completions (1,822) and third in passing yards (22,470).
But he has yet to earn induction into the team's elite quarterback club with Aikman and Roger Staubach for one reason.
"I view him as very capable of being a quarterback who can win a Super Bowl, a franchise quarterback," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Romo last week. "So when we don't do that, when we don't get in the playoffs, he... gets a lot of the disappointment from our fans and his entire constituency."
Despite Romo's numbers, the Cowboys have won only one playoff game since he became the starter midway through the 2006 season. His 4,184 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 102.5 passer rating rang hollow last season when the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season and for the third time in four seasons.
"Certainly, last year was a very disappointing year because he had a great season, and we should have, as a team, been more," Jones said. "We should have knocked on the door more than we did to some degree. But the Giants were better. I hope we get the same opportunity this year. He's very capable of doing it, maintaining his level of play. I hope he can maintain it for many years in the future. I hope that.
"...I think we have a quarterback here in Tony Romo for many years to come."
But the debate continues: Is Tony Romo an elite quarterback? There is only one way for Romo to answer that question.
Charean Williams, 817-390-776