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The One Moment That Could Have Changed Tony Romo’s Career

If one call had gone a different way, we could have been looking at a Super Bowl champion in Dallas right now

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tony Romo’s not-shocking but wave-making retirement has left our NFL writers with a question: What will Romo’s legacy be? He’s one of the most efficient quarterbacks ever, but never saw a stage grander than a divisional-round playoff game. One play could have changed all of that, though. If Dez Bryant had caught that pass — yeah, that one — in the 2014 playoffs against the Packers, we could be talking about Tony Romo: Super Bowl champion right now. Robert Mays and Kevin Clark break down all the ways it could have played out.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Dez Bryant’s No-Catch May Have Changed NFL History

Kevin Clark: I think now the Dez Bryant catch in Green Bay becomes one of the greatest what-ifs in the history of football.

Robert Mays: Yeah, that is 100 percent true. Because that team absolutely could’ve won the Super Bowl.

Clark: And then there’s no chance he loses his job to Dak.

Mays: Even if [Dak] gets there.

Clark: I mean, they’re not gonna draft Dak. There’s a million scenarios. The whole thing changes.

Mays: I’m going the other way, though.

Clark: He could’ve retired?

Mays: If they win that and that 2015 season happens, maybe he walks away after [that] season. Because at that point, what else do you need? You did it, you had that moment. You had the one, it-all-broke-right situation that you’ve been waiting for your entire career.

The game [where] they arrived that season was in Seattle. When they went in and beat the Seahawks, it was like, "Oh shit, this Cowboys team is for real." They could have done it again [in the playoffs]. I don’t think anyone would have precluded them from making that happen.

Clark: I think that you could just follow the threads of what happens if Dez catches that pass for a long time now. I think that we’re going to get a very good column out of it in five years, just revisiting all the different scenarios that played out because of that.

He Never Got a Chance With a Stacked Cowboys Team

Mays: How are you gonna think about Tony Romo?

Clark: I think people will look back and they’ll think he was a good-but-not-great quarterback. Danny White made three conference championship games with the Cowboys. I think he’ll be on par with that. I think he’ll be remembered as giving us a lot of entertainment, especially in those 4 p.m. games. But I think that he will not — because he didn’t make a Super Bowl — be considered a part of this great generation of quarterbacks. I think he’s gonna be a little behind the Mannings and the Bradys and those guys. I don’t think we’re gonna look back and say Tony Romo was a great, great quarterback, like we do with Troy Aikman because he won the Super Bowls or obviously Roger Staubach, so I think he’s never going to be in the Cowboy super-legends club. He’s just gonna be in the Cowboy legends club.

Mays: [In] 2007 [and] 2009 he was phenomenal. He was so, so good on those teams that didn’t have a ton to work with. It was Miles Austin and Roy Williams. They weren’t these stacked groups that really set him up for success, and he just kind of stepped in and did well. He was the guy that made those offenses go, and for whatever reason they just never got over the hump in the playoffs and that matters.

2010 was like a little bit of a pivot point. He missed those 10 games, and then they went on those 8–8 stretches. [Then] them building that offense into what it was with that line and him getting hurt these next two [years] is just kind of tragic, in a way, because I would’ve loved to see these three years of Tony Romo.

The Cowboys were a phenomenon last year. They took over the NFL in every way as far as what we’re talking about, who we’re watching. They were a national TV game every single week. It wouldn’t have been different if Tony Romo was the quarterback. They would’ve been a similar team in a similar offense, and him not getting to do that sucks. I think that in a way his career is a little bit unfinished.

Romo Was Fun As Hell, Though

Mays: The efficiency stuff is crazy. Four guys had a better completion percentage since the merger. I think three guys had a better quarterback rating. Four guys had more yards per attempt. These names are Steve Young, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers; those are the names ahead of him.

[Romo] was absolutely captivating [when he would] spin out of stuff and make things happen on the run, extending plays down the field. That throw he had against the Texans in 2014, where he spun away from [J.J.] Watt and hit Terrance Williams for a 40-yard touchdown. Not that many guys in the entire league could ever make that play. And he seemed to do shit like that all the time.

Clark: The one thing, you know, you talked about national television all the time. When we’re talking about Romo’s legacy, I think part of it will be, he was part of some of the greatest entertainment of one of the golden eras of NFL television. Ratings exploded in the last 15 years. It is almost unbelievable how many people watch the NFL, especially in comparison to any other television show, which is basically down because of the nature of television in this decade. He is a reason that these 4 p.m. games get close, have a big play at the end, spin out of some plays, have the late drive. He gave us unending entertainment for a decade.

Mays: Among all the quarterbacks I’ve watched recently, he’s the guy that’s been one of the most consistently entertaining. He was very, very good, but he was also in the Wilson-Rodgers camp of [being able to] make stuff happen just out of nothing every once in a while. There aren’t that many quarterbacks who can walk that line, who can be excellent improvisers and also be a guy that you can hang your offense on all season. That is a tough needle to thread, and he seemed to do it all of the time.

We’re going to come back to playoff slips, one missed catch, and a body that ended up failing him as the things that probably took away that person from being the best version of himself he could have been.