Of all the midweek banalities and the vapid postgame rejoinders, and of all the exhaustively reported Stuff That Tony Says each week, the one that drives me up the wall is when quarterback Romo assures us that the Cowboys will “get back to work tomorrow” and “get better.”
We hear this often because, it seems, an 8-8 NFL team is frequently looking to turn the page to tomorrow.
Tomorrow is filled with hope. Today, as the Dallas Cowboys have been reminding us on Sundays for the past 17 seasons, tends to be trip-wired with accountability. And where’s the glamour in that?
At age 33, Romo’s yesterdays are beginning to outnumber his football tomorrows. This training camp is his 11th since the Cowboys signed him to a $10,000 undrafted free-agent contract in 2003.
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True, the money in pro sports has escalated beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, during the off-season Romo signed a $108 million contract, making him the highest paid player in Cowboys history.
More than Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. More than Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith.
And for that record salary, as most Cowboys fans can’t seem to forget, Romo has been on the winning end of just one playoff game.
The Cowboys finished a disappointing 8-8 a year ago. And as soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once famously said, a team is pretty much what its record says it is.
In 2006, the last of Parcells’ four seasons as head coach in Dallas, the Cowboys finished 9-7. That was Romo’s first complete season as the team’s starting quarterback.
Now they’re 8-8.
When he was asked this week about a Super Bowl defining a quarterback’s legacy, Romo responded, “I just think we’re trying to get better today.
“More than anything, that’s talk. It’s obviously important. It’s like seven months away. I’m not going to talk too much about that one.”
Naturally, Romo said, the team always has the goal of reaching the Super Bowl as its primary motivation.
But as he explained, “You need to set a lot of little ones to reach that goal. To me, your expectations should just be about improving yourself each day you’re here. And if you do that, usually at the end, those other goals take care of themselves.”
Except they haven’t in the Cowboys’ case, have they?
Since Parcells left, Romo has walked red carpets, had a romantic fling with a celebrity or two, played golf with Tiger Woods, gotten married, had a son, undergone surgery to remove a back cyst and — oh, yeah — signed the richest contract in franchise history.
No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about his legacy. It’s already in the bank.
In the quest to somehow make Romo a Super Bowl quarterback, the Cowboys have drafted running backs and gifted receivers. They’ve changed head coaches and coordinators.
Yet, how is Romo, one year older, any better than the 8-8 quarterback he was a year ago? Other than his new contract, of course.
More this week from Stuff That Tony Says:
“When I talk to kids at my camp or at different places … they’ll be a defensive end in high school and see DeMarcus Ware, and they’ll think, ‘I can’t play in the NFL.’ They’ll look at a guy and see he’s faster, bigger, stronger, everything. But one of the things I stress to them is, ‘You’re not competing against them. You’re competing against yourself to get better every time you’re out there. If you just went out here and got better every day, over the course of one week you’ll improve. Over the course of a month, you’ll definitely get better. Over a year, you’re exponentially better.’
“That approach allows you to become a player one day who can reach a level that’s pretty special. It all just starts with right now.”
The Cowboys, Romo said, take that same one day at a time, one week at a time approach.
Sigh. And where has it gotten them?
Romo had one more story the other day that bears retelling. He was asked about Parcells’ role in his career, and Romo admitted that he and the former coach still exchange text messages. One exchange of texts came after he signed the $108 million contract.
Parcells was instrumental 10 years ago in offering Romo, undrafted from Eastern Illinois, a modest $10,000 bonus to sign with the Cowboys.
“He sent me a text after [the contract],” Romo said, “and it said, ‘I was just wondering if coming to Dallas had worked out for you.’
“I had to laugh. It was pretty funny.”
Romo, I suppose, has 108 million reasons to laugh.
Too bad Parcells didn’t remind him, though, that for now he’s still an 8-8 quarterback.