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The Enigma that is Tony Romo

Updated on May 7, 2014
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin analyzes sports, with an especially strong penchant for statistical breakdowns.

As a fan of the NFL and a bit of a football historian, I find Tony Romo to be one of the most baffling athletes to have ever played the game. On one hand, he is right up there with the most efficient quarterbacks in history. On the other, he is despised by many Dallas Cowboy fans and viewed as a “Choker.” Strangely, regardless of which camp you’re in, viewing Tony Romo as a choke-artist or one of the most efficient signal callers to ever play the game, you are correct. Thus the enigma that is Tony Romo.

In this article we will be exploring the walking contradiction that is Tony Romo. We will be analyzing his career from both statistical and subjective criteria to try to get a grasp on the identity and legacy of this Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

Love or hate him? You decide.
Love or hate him? You decide. | Source

Humble Beginnings:

Much of Tony Romo’s early story is quite inspiring. Out of high school he was a moderately recruited quarterback who eventually settled on playing for the Division I-AA Eastern Illinois Panthers. While there he had a stellar career, generating some NFL buzz by winning many accolades, most notably the Walter Payton Award. Despite a significant college career, Romo would go undrafted.

Fighting and clawing his way into the NFL, after three years of development, Romo was given his first chance to start in week 6 of the 2006 season. Romo went on to perform splendidly, posting a 6-4 starting record and leading the Cowboys to the playoffs, where they lost a one point heartbreaker to the Seattle Seahawks.

After the 2006 season, the future looked bright for the Cowboys, but fast-forward 8 years, and still under the arm of Tony Romo, Dallas has only went to the playoffs 3 times with one playoff win. In addition, they have failed to make the post-season in the last 4 years. Cowboy fans are irate and the franchise is in seemingly constant turmoil.

Amidst all of this, Tony Romo has went from media darling to scapegoat, and for the objective fan watching from a distance, it is still unclear which label is most deserved.

Cowboys legend Troy Aikman
Cowboys legend Troy Aikman | Source

What has been Impressive about Tony Romo’s Career?

The answer: stats! Tony Romo has never had a bad statistical season. Hard to believe with all the late season woes? Yes it is, but nonetheless true. They are not the gaudy sort of numbers of a Peyton Manning, but they are the highly efficient numbers of say a Steve Young.

Because Dallas has had so many notable quarterbacks, I feel it fair to compare Romo’s statistical output to Hall of Famer and most recent noteworthy Cowboy QB alum Troy Aikman. Before I am tarred and feathered, I want to make it absolutely clear that beyond statistics there is no comparison between the two. Troy Aikman has 3 Super Bowl rings. Enough said! But from the aspect of statistical output, the comparison is quite fascinating.

Tony Romo has completed a higher percentage of his passes than Troy Aikman in his 8 years as a starter, has thrown fewer interceptions at a lower interception percentage, and has thrown more touchdowns. In fact, the majority of these statistical categories are not even close. Most notably, Romo has thrown 208 career touchdowns to only 101 interceptions. Compare that to Aikman’s 165 touchdown tosses and 141 interceptions.

When you consider that Romo has compiled his statistics in only 8 years of starting, compared to Aikman’s 12, these really are startling statistics. In fact, the only significant seasonal statistics category that Romo trails Aikman in is career yards, and it isn’t by much. If Romo starts one more season, he will probably surpass Aikman in that category, too.

But Aikman was a better winner! Yes. Aikman won 3 Super Bowls, and thusly is one of the most successful QBs of all-time, but would you believe that Romo also has Aikman by a hair in regular season win consistency? I could hardly believe it either. With a career record of 94-71, Aikman has a lifetime regular season winning percentage of .570%. At 63-45, Tony Romo has a lifetime regular season winning percentage of .583%.

But Aikman was better in the clutch! Yes, all things considered, Aikman wins out here as well. He shouldered the pressure and came out the victor in far more meaningful games than Tony Romo has, but if you look at the statistics of 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives, would you believe the two are equal? Aikman had 16 fourth quarter comebacks in his career and 21 game winning drives. Romo has had 18 fourth quarter comebacks and 19 game winning drives. If you consider that Romo has only started 8 years, on the virtue of just these statistics, Romo actually has the edge.

Obviously Aikman was the better quarterback. He had an 11-5 record in the playoffs for crying out loud! But if you just look at the seasonal numbers on a surface level, Tony Romo is right up there with the most efficient field generals to ever play the game.

Career Stats: Aikman and Romo

Player
Win%
Cmp%
Yds
TD
Int.
Int%
Aikman
.570%
61.5%
32,942
165
141
3.0
Romo
.583%
64.6%
29,565
208
101
2.7
 
AvgY/A
YCmp
YG
4QtrCB
GWinDr
Rate
Aikman
6.3
11.4
199.6
16
21
81.6
Romo
7.7
12.1
217.4
18
19
95.8
Peyton Manning's numbers dip a bit in December, but nothing compared to Tony Romo's.
Peyton Manning's numbers dip a bit in December, but nothing compared to Tony Romo's. | Source

Tony Romo

If Tony Romo retired tomorrow, how would you characterize his legacy?

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And Down the Stretch They Come!

The number one complaint about Tony Romo is that from December on, the crucial part of the season, he chokes up. However you want to describe it, on the final stretch of the season Tony Romo is just not the same player. In all months save December and January, Romo has an astounding win percentage of .658%. In December and January he has an equally astounding (but for an entirely different reason) winning record of .389%. Compare that to Troy Aikman, who had a .564% winning record during these pivotal months

It is beyond bizarre that a player could be so good for over two-thirds of the season and so poor over the last bit. I simply haven’t been able to find a precedent. Think about it. There have been plenty of quarterbacks to never be good: Ryan Leaf, Todd Marinovich, Andre Ware, etc. There have been many quarterbacks to be called chokers at some point in their careers: John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Peyton Manning, just to name a few. But never anything like this.

Take John Elway, for a long time he couldn’t win the big one. Before he finished his career with two Super Bowl wins, a lot of people unfairly labeled him a choker, but if you analyze his stats, his winning percentage is about the same for all months of the season. Jim Kelly never won the big one, but unless you look at Super Bowl alone, he was always a solid player. Peyton Manning does have a slight decline in effectiveness during the colder months, but you can hardly call him inconsistent.

Tony Romo seems to be an entirely different player when it turns December, and I am at a loss to find such a marked case to compare it to. For a player to be among the best quarterbacks to ever play the game until November 30 every year and to be well below average for the months that follow is mindboggling.

For years many fans have tried to discredit the idea that there was any truth to the concept that Romo couldn’t play well when it mattered most. As an unbiased observer, (I am not a Cowboys fan.) I tended to agree with these fans, but after 8 seasons the sample size is large enough to conclude that Tony Romo has a definite problem winning big games.

I can understand how unnerving it must be for Cowboys fans, a rich and storied franchise, to constantly be on the cusp of accomplishing something only to fall short, to see this great talent at quarterback who continually can’t close the deal.

What makes Tony Romo such an enigma is not that he is bad, but that he is so good most the time.

Despite his problems, Tony Romo is a talented QB.
Despite his problems, Tony Romo is a talented QB. | Source

What Needs to be Done?

I think a change of scenery is in order for all involved. Despite everything, Tony Romo is obviously a very talented quarterback. He is no doubt in a rut at Dallas. He doesn’t have many years left, and he needs to try his luck somewhere else.

Cowboy fans need new hope. At this point, a new quarterback would be a welcome change of scenery for fans. Yes, Romo may turn the corner yet, but I feel Dallas fans have wasted all their energy hoping for this to happen and need a new signal caller, for good or ill, to put their renewed hopes and energy into.

I really believe this is the best solution for everybody involved, and the change should have been made a couple of years ago. Both the Cowboy Nation and Tony Romo could do with a fresh start.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 months ago from Oklahoma

      Paul: I wrote this several years ago, and Romo stayed put. He was a whale of a player, but just couldn't get over the hump.

      I was so glad to hear he retired. At the end everytime he got hit it was a season ending injury. It was like he was made of glass.

      Especially with it being back problems, he needed to get out while he could still walk.

      Prescott has been tremendously impressive. Just doesn't make many mistakes.

      Cool that you have the claim to fame of playing for the same HS as Romo.

      Thanks so much for dropping by.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 3 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      After reading your article, Larry, I can understand why the Cowboys ran with Prescott after Romo was injured again in the first game of the 2016 season. It probably was a good decision for Romo to retire after the Cowboys cut him. It really is amazing that he put up such great stats but couldn't win the games when they counted. I seem to remember Romo mishandling an extra point or field goal attempt in a playoff game in the 2006 season which cost the Cowboys a win. By the way, did you know that Romo and I attended the same high school, Burlington High in Wisconsin, and played on the same gridiron. I played football 1960-1961, and Romo played at BHS during the late 90s. I really enjoyed reading this article.

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 2 years ago from Texas, USA

      I hear you on that, Larry. He is an old man (in football years) and must take care of that brittle back. I admire Tony (we're on a first name basis :) for adapting his game and approach to his new reality. Many of us in "real life" don't do that as gracefully as he has.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
      Author

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Dbro: I wrote this article over a year ago. Romo certainly gave some hope last year. I think a lot of it is that he finally had the benefit of a strong O-line and running game.

      That said, he really has become brittle with his back problems. He's as accurate as ever, but I worry about his durability moving forward.

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 2 years ago from Texas, USA

      I think one of the things Romo suffers from most is the specter of trying to follow a great quarterback. He has trouble stacking up against the memories Dallas fans have of Aikman and Staubach.

      I am a Dallas fan and a Romo fan. I have the yearly optimism that every fan of every team in every sport has...."wait until this year!"

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Jeolmoz2: Thanks so much for the insight.

      I don't know if uninspired is quite the right word. It is more like whatever it is that allows an athlete to stay calm in pressure situations, he just doesn't have. He has everything else a big time QB needs, except that. I tend to agree that if it hasn't happened yet, it just isn't going to happen for him, but only time will tell.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Prospectboy: Thanks so much for the response. I just think a fresh start would be better for everybody. As you mentioned, contract ties will probably make that impossible. I think Romo is an elite talent, but I don't see him ever shaking the choke bug at Dallas. I hope I'm wrong. The whole thing is just bizarre.

      A lot is put on Romo, but there is no doubt Jerry Jones is the primary reason for their problems. He is incapable of not micro-managing. He couldn't even leave well enough alone with Jimmy Johnson at the helm and the world in the palm of his hands.

    • jeolmoz2 profile image

      Julio E Olmo Sr 3 years ago from Florida, USA

      Personally the highlight of his career for me was him dating Super Hot, Jessica Simpson.

      The fact to the matter is that if he was ever going to turn into the second coming of Troy Aikman, he would had done it by now. There’s no Plan B here at all. The Dallas Cowboys have never drafted or brought in anyone to challenge Tony Romo for the starting job, so he basically has played uninspired football for years

    • prospectboy profile image

      Bradrick H. 3 years ago from Texas

      As someone that has been a Cowboys fan since a kid, this one of the best articles I've come across in regards to Tony Romo. You described him quite well, an enigma. Also, the way you broke down he and Aikman's stats was very well done. Great job on this article.

      I think that Tony Romo sometimes gets an unfair rap by fans and the media. Yes, he's shown time after time that he folds in the big games, and like you mentioned it's truly mind boggling how poorly he has performed in December. That said, I think he's a fairly good quarterback, but the pressure he's under probably has a lot to do with his performance.

      When you have someone like Jerry Jones micro-managing the team, coupled with the history of quarterbacks that have had success with the Cowboys, Tony Romo is somewhat in a no win situation. What's even more worse for Cowboy fan like myself is that Jerry Jones committed to him long term, which means he's for sure the quarterback of the Cowboys future.

      I really don't know what else to say to be honest. All I know is that I'm ready to see my team actually get passed mediocre 8-8 seasons. Although I'm a fan, I'm very critical of the Cowboys. Again, you've written a very thorough article. Voted up, rated interesting and awesome.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thank you for the support.

      For the most part I read topics that I have some interest in, but I also try to find articles that are outside my wheelhouse. If I feel they are well done, I like to give them support regardless of my interest level in that given topic.

      The point is, it is important in our community to give at least some support to writers we believe are good or show promise, even if some of the topics aren't in our personal areas of interest.

      Thanks again.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am not a football fan but will share your hub with all my followers in case some of them are!

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Lions44: There have definitely been issues other than just Romo on the Cowboys team. I could have addressed that a little more. You can't win them by yourself, but that being said, I still think Romo has problems with prosperity regardless of the situation. I'd still take Wilson over Romo any day, but it would be really interesting to see Romo on a team where he didn't shoulder so much of the load or have to deal with so much drama. Good insight.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Alphadogg: I really agree with your assessment. You just can't call Romo outright bad, but the consistency issues are unnerving.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting read. I am not into football that much, but i like to keep up with the players. When i do watch i'm rooting for Peyton Manning with the Indy Colts.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      If Romo was on a team like the Seahawks, where the QB does not have to do too much, I think he would have won a Super Bowl. Romo is more talented than Russell Wilson in so many categories, but the players around him, along with the owner, are always in disarray. The coaching has been terrible. Wade Phillips? Jason Garrett? Come on. I would take Romo over a lot of QBs in the league. What if he played for the Bengals? Playoff win? Yes. Jets? Their fans would be happy (for a little while). I like to think of it that way. Granted, he has had some baffling losses and he might fold under pressure (he played at Eastern Illinois). But sometimes I would take him over Eli. Good analysis. Voted up.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 3 years ago from Texas

      Tony Romo is a decent quarterback...statically he appears as great.... However he does not have that championship pettigree... He consistently folds under pressure..maybe the spot light of being "Americas team QB is too much for him.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      He has that effect on people, lol. Thanks for the comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad I don't live in Dallas because Romo would drive me crazy. :)