Bye Bye Tony: Bidding adieu to a division rival


For sports fans, this time of year is the second coming of Christmas. In terms of exciting events, you have:

NCAA Men’s Final Four
MLB Opening Day
The Masters
Horse racing’s Grand National

Okay, just kidding about that last one but the other events certainly make for a formidable trio. Sprinkle in some NFL free agent signings, college coaching hires and you have a potent mix. If you’re a sports writer and you can’t find a narrative to latch onto this week, shame on you.

Amidst the flurry of activity, the NFC East bid adieu to one of its most notable players. Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Tony Romo announced Tuesday that he will be trading in the pads and the gridiron for a microphone and the broadcast booth.

The move had been speculated on for months. It began when he lost his starting gig to rookie-standout, Dak Prescott. Trade rumors swirled, but they were mostly a creation of the Jerry Jones hype-machine. The odds that another team would trade for the injury-prone Romo and his expensive contract were slim to none.

The Cowboys finally announced this week that they will be releasing Romo, which shaves a large figure off their books for the 2017 and 2018. In theory, it would free up the veteran quarterback to seek employment anywhere he wanted.

Instead, Romo will follow Cowboys’ legend Troy Aikman into the world of broadcasting. CBS announced that Romo will be stepping in alongside its lead play-by-play guy, Jim Nantz. Incumbent Phil Simms had spent the past twenty years occupying the position Romo will be taking. His new role has not be announced.

While the off-the-field move made big splashes, the un-drafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University hangs up his cleats about as quietly as he came. There will be no last, game winning drive, no tearful ovation from the Dallas-faithful. Instead, his final touchdown pass came in mop-up duty: a meaningless, New Year’s Day game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Romo missed significant time with injuries and his final numbers (34,183 yards, 248 touchdowns, 65.3 completion percentage, 97.1 Quarterback Rating) have or will be dwarfed by many of his contemporaries. The teams behind him weren’t always great, but he usually gave them a shot to win – as evidenced by his 61.4 winning percentage.

Despite that, he has always battled the stigma of being a choker. Everyone remembers “the snap” which sent countless Cowboys fans to therapy.   Fair or not, it may be the defining moment of a career defined by almost.  Dallas, under Romo, never made it to the Big Game, much less won it.

Part of his un-clutch reputation stemmed from the perception that he threw back-breaking interceptions. Opposing fans were more than happy to pile onto this narrative. Despite that, his career interception rate actually compared pretty favorably to some of his division rivals:

INT Rates of NFC East Quarterbacks

Michael Vick 2.7%*
Tony Romo 2.7%
Kirk Cousins 2.7%
Eli Manning 3.2%

*played first half of his career out of the division

As a Redskins fan, I got to see plenty of Romo. He made you nervous, but never
terrified you. He finished with a 33-26 record against NFC East opponents: good, but not great. At the same time, while you rooted against his team, it seemed less easy to root against the guy, personally.

On his free time, he played golf, dated Jessica Simpson and took unsuspecting guests to the movies. He has also made massive donations in the charity sector and stayed free of the legal troubles that befell many of his teammates.

Romo retires, on the eve on his 37th birthday, an age when most people are still climbing the ranks of their first career. Romo, despite zero media experience, will be starting his second at the top of the tower (honestly, there’s no way he can be worse than Simms).

Strangely, I think Redskins fans will miss number nine. Maybe it’s because we felt we had a chance to steal a game. Maybe it’s because his replacement, Dak Prescott, seems to have that no-nonsense, “we’re going to kick your ass” demeanor that Romo never quite had.

Whatever the case, Godspeed, Tony, it’s been a fun ten years.

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