Mac Engel

We never knew how good we had it with Romo and Dirk

Tony Romo has been to the Pro Bowl four times and ranks eighth among active NFL quarterbacks in touchdown passes.
Tony Romo has been to the Pro Bowl four times and ranks eighth among active NFL quarterbacks in touchdown passes. AP

Tony Romo says he is going to be back “sooner rather than later,” and Dirk Nowitzki recently signed a two-year contract extension, but we should all prepare to start saying our goodbyes.

No, their respective demises are not imminent, but this simply means that we need to appreciate their talents and achievements now before they are no longer around to entertain us.

In hindsight, with these two guys in their prime, we had it a lot better than we thought.

In this century, no two pro jocks have meant more to us in the FW/d than Dirk and Tony. Can you imagine how we would feel had Dirk not carried Mark Cuban’s toy to the NBA title in 2011?

The last title before that we enjoyed in this town was the Dallas Stars’ Stanley Cup in 1999.

The specter of replacing Romo and Dirk, however, is truly frightening, and in the end we might be kicking ourselves for not appreciating them enough, even though they could be frustrating.

Should the Cowboys have more than two wild-card wins with Romo as their quarterback? Yes. The Cowboys should never have lost the 2007 NFC divisional-round playoff game against the New York Giants at home.

Should the Mavs have more than one NBA title with Dirk as their masterpiece player? Yes. The Mavs should never have blown their 2-0 series lead against the Heat in the ’06 NBA Finals.

It’s sports and, as such, those shortcomings can never be forgotten, but what should be remembered with equal intensity is what they did give us.

These respective teams had been a joke for several seasons before they arrived.

On Thursday, Dirk was at SMU to promote his charity tennis event scheduled for Sunday morning at the school’s tennis center. Once shy and quiet, Dirk has become the best ambassador for his team, his town and his sport anybody could design.

This is his third sports-themed charity event this off-season — a baseball game earlier this summer in Frisco, a soccer game in his native Germany and now a celebrity tennis tournament.

Much like Romo with golf, Nowitzki is good enough at tennis he likely could have made a little bit of a run at a pro career.

“I think I made the best decision,” Dirk said about pursuing hoops over rackets.

Far from a guy simply cashing checks and embarrassing himself at the end of his career because he can’t think of anything else to do, Dirk is still an effective player despite the fact that he’s 38.

It was about 10 years ago we considered Dirk a “soft Euro” who could not handle the responsibility of immense talent.

He recently signed an extension that could potentially take him until he’s 40, and 20 NBA seasons.

Dirk would never sign off on a Kobe Bryant-like retirement exit, but I asked him if we need to start preparing for the fact that these next two years will be it.

“Just because I signed a two-year deal doesn’t mean I’ll play,” he said. “I’d love to play those two years, but we’ll have to see how my body responds.”

If the Mavs stink, which is sadly plausible, it’s equally feasible to envision him quitting after this season. If they can make a run at the eighth seed in the Western Conference, expect him to come back.

It helps that Cuban has handed him the keys to the franchise, but it’s not his fault his boss can’t find good players to surround him to ease the burden.

“It should be fun, exciting and a competitive year,” Dirk said. “And we’ll see how far we can go.”

Not sure anybody believes that outside of the Mavs’ organization, but props to Dirk for selling the company propaganda. Most guys in his size 16s would raise a stink about his supporting cast, but Dirk doesn’t have it in him.

Maybe he can last another two years, but as witnessed with Romo’s latest back injury, we have to remind ourselves players at this age can go at any moment.

While we do not know an exact timetable for Romo’s return, we do know that he’s going to try, the Cowboys are expecting it, and we should brace for the reality that this is not going to work. This is a hope-for-the-best, prepare-for-the-worst scenario.

Despite repeatedly suffering major injuries, no one has tried harder than Romo, but it’s becoming more evident his body refuses to cooperate.

On Thursday during an interview on 105.3 The Fan/KRLD, I asked former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann if Romo should return.

“Tony Romo should never play football again,” was Theismann’s response.

The sad part is that Romo will never become Dirk and complete his status as a champion.

What Romo did give us, however, was an inspirational story and he made the Cowboys relevant in a way they had not been since Troy Aikman retired in 2000.

With Romo as the starter, the Cowboys have gone 78-49 and made the playoffs four times. In the six previous seasons before he became the starting quarterback in ’06, the team was 40-56 with one playoff appearance.

Some of those Cowboys failures were on Romo, but unlike Dirk — who finally had one long playoff run in him — Tony never benefited from the necessary number of moving parts to align to win a title.

Now, watching rookie Dak Prescott take over is exciting because it’s new and different, but the reality is he might not be as good as Romo. And we certainly know there will never be another Dirk.

Neither is gone just yet, but we best say thanks and appreciate them while they’re still here.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Wednesday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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