Dallas Cowboys

This playoff version of Romo-led Cowboys a much wiser one

Tony Romo is consoled by Al Johnson after a botched field-goal attempt in the Cowboys’ 21-20 loss to Seattle in 2007.
Tony Romo is consoled by Al Johnson after a botched field-goal attempt in the Cowboys’ 21-20 loss to Seattle in 2007. AP

In hindsight, it seems like it was a trick question.

Did I want to remain in Baltimore and cover the NFL Colts after their 5-11, owner-threatening-to-move season?

Or did I want to come here and be this newspaper’s beat man for the Dallas Cowboys, the team that seemingly most of America rooted for?

“And you’ll probably get to cover a few Super Bowls,” I remember our then-sports editor Galyn Wilkins telling me, “since the Cowboys seem to go every other year.”

Galyn proved to be half right. The Cowboys, indeed, had represented the NFC in five of the previous 10 Super Bowls.

But I wouldn’t get to see them play in one for the next 12 seasons.

The moral of the story: Don’t take anything for granted, including the Cowboys.

Think back to Jan. 6, 2007, when we thought Owner Jones’ franchise again had it all. It had a Hall of Fame-bound coach in Bill Parcells, it had a rising discovery at quarterback in Tony Romo, and it was a field-goal snap away from heading into the second round of the playoffs.

We all know what happened next. In the eight years since that fumbled snap in Seattle, Romo and Owner Jones have won only one playoff game.

The 12-win season notwithstanding, there is nothing to take for granted anymore. The Cowboys are 6 1/2-point favorites over the Detroit Lions in Sunday’s NFC wild-card game, but you won’t find any of them booking off-day trips to Cabo San Lucas this time.

Both Romo and Jones, for one thing, are eight years older than that day in Seattle. Jones, who is 72, seems to disco-dance away from any questions about his days on the franchise throne being numbered.

Yet, the window eventually closes for everyone, even billionaire owners and their 34-year-old, $108 million quarterbacks.

They know this, and it seems to have guided many of the choices that both have made this season.

Jones listened to his close advisers, avoided swallowing the Johnny Manziel pill and embraced patience as his new philosophy. Romo, meanwhile, took Wednesdays off and appears to have more painkillers coursing through his veins than Seattle Slew.

Returning after two back surgeries nudged Romo into a corner of introspection that he had never had to face. In training camp, he took it easy and rediscovered what his 34-year-old body could — and couldn’t — do.

As some of us in the media rolled our eyes, Tony promised “the best version of myself.”

But he was right. Buoyed by the addition of coach Scott Linehan and by the cocoon of one of the league’s best offensive lines, Romo has evolved from gunslinger to ship pilot.

Romo, version 2.0 — the best version of him.

“I think you understand that it takes a lot just to get into the playoffs,” Romo said of his changed perspective. “And you’re not guaranteed anything once you get there.”

As they emerged from their most recent Super Bowl years — the Aikman, Emmitt, Irvin years — the Cowboys seemed to struggle with their declining success. Jones operated with the flawed idea that they were one player, one free-agent bonus check, away from returning to the NFL spotlight.

They know better now.

“Our mindset all year has been that we just go play,” Romo said about Sunday’s matchup with the Lions. “Whatever the time, whatever the day, whoever we’re playing against — it doesn’t matter for us. We’re just going to go out and play.”

No one at Valley Ranch, it appears, has made any plans for either Green Bay or Cabo.

They are back in the playoffs. But they know nothing is guaranteed.

Cowboys, version 2.0? Time to load it and see.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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