Mike Wise
Mike Wise
Columnist

Tony Romo: A legend ahead of his time

G.J. McCarthy/AP - Tony Romo could only watch as he team prepares to face the Redskins.

Sean Salisbury and I had similar feelings when we heard of the urgent news flash from Dallas on Friday, that the 10 percent of Tony Romo’s lung punctured in the Cowboys’ comeback win over the 49ers last Sunday is miraculously better.

“His punctured lung is already healed! It’s healed!” said Salisbury, a bit like a televangelist.

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Salisbury is a former NFL quarterback turned analyst. He lives in Dallas, where he does a pregame Cowboys show on the Fox affiliate. Like a lot of observers, he is a little suspicious of the lightning-quick recovery of the Cowboys quarterback just in time for “Monday Night Football” against their rival, the Washington Redskins.

Look, I like and respect Ed Werder. But I half-expect his ESPN reports now to be backlit with candles as harp music is cued from “The Gladiator.” Or Juliette Binoche to show up beside Romo’s locker with a bedpan, like she did to a mummified Ralph Fiennes in “The English Patient.”

Navy SEALs Team Six was less feted for taking out the world’s No. 1 terrorist. The way he’s been treated this week, you’d think Romo pulled off the greatest comeback since Lazarus and had a higher pain threshold than Joan of Arc.

Enough. I can’t take it anymore, this deifying of a quarterback whose most famous play involved bobbling the snap of a chip-shot field goal attempt that would have won a playoff game.

But after all the career montages the past few days, deciding whether Romo was an NFL quarterback with one career playoff victory in nine years or a candidate for enshrinement in Canton was really difficult. He has the most revered rib since Adam’s.

“I give him a lot of credit. That’ll gain more respect from teammates, from me, you and fans than any 700-yard passing game,” Salisbury said of Romo coming back against the 49ers. “He needed that. But it epitomizes Romo. . . .He’s a good player. He’s not a great player.

“They’re never winning the Super Bowl with him at quarterback. Period. They’re just not. There’s a ceiling on his game because about six or seven minutes a game, he does something schizophrenic where you go, ‘What?’

“I like Tony. But the Bradys, the Breeses or Mannings, they limit those moments to one or two minutes or one or two plays.”

Of course the coverage isn’t Romo’s fault. As usual, it’s ours — knee-jerk members of the media with no long view of history. Yes, Romo genuinely showed physical and mental perseverance to rally the Cowboys against the 49ers in the fourth quarter, and just a week after he fumbled away the game against the Jets at the goal line.

But not only was it not the greatest performance by a punctured-lung quarterback in the NFL; it wasn’t even the greatest performance by a punctured-lung Cowboys quarterback.

The late Don Meredith threw for more than 400 yards with the same ailment in a comeback against the Redskins in 1966. Had Dandy Don performed the same feat in today’s Tweet-crazy world, he too would have been treated like MacArthur returning from his Pacific campaign.

Yet when Salisbury and others say Romo “needed that,” what does it say about his reputation among even his own fans?

Romo is the quarterback of the most popular team in pro football, but here’s the real reason for all the fuss over his resolve last week: No one saw it coming.

For much of the last decade, Romo encapsulates everything that franchise is about: heavenly regular seasons, hellish postseasons; glam instead of guts; entertainment superseding actual Lombardi trophies.

He plays for Jerry Jones in a climate-controlled colossus that is less a football stadium and more Spielberg spaceship. Cowboys Stadium is an amazing architectural feat, an enormous pleasure palace equipped with the most humongous video scoreboard known to man; it’s also soulless, as far away from a sodden hunk of grass and mud as the game can possibly get.

Funny, no, Romo had to go to San Francisco to find his heart?

But in that second half against the 49ers, when the only person in the stadium capable of bringing the Cowboys back said he wanted back in the game — punctured lung, cracked rib and all — the script was stunningly flipped. The pretty-boy QB had true grit.

It’s time to move on from the cliche Washington has borrowed from Chicago, Good Rex or Bad Rex. Come Monday night, the question is which Dallas quarterback shows up: the butter-fingered goat of Week 1 or the media-created hero of Week 2?

Don’t bet on the latter.

 
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