As Tony Romo retires from the NFL to begin a career in broadcasting, the quarterback leaves a complicated legacy behind. Ask around, check Twitter, peruse a few comment sections, and you’ll find that you can split fans — whether Cowboys nuts or not — into two distinct categories: those who (correctly) regard him as one of the most consistently efficient and precise throwers in NFL history, and those who (incorrectly) view him as an all-time choke artist and a guy whose career is defined by ringless fingers. I fall into the former category, but I admit that I’m powerless against those who choose to focus on Romo’s high-profile failures instead of his incredible, jaw-dropping highlights.
For those of you who see Romo as a disappointment, nothing I write is going to change your mind. So I’m not even going to try. Instead, I’ll just tell you how I’m going remember Romo’s playing career: with the visual of him spinning away from oncoming pass rushers before completing seemingly impossible throws downfield.
The undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois did a lot of things well en route to racking up 34,000-plus career passing yards, throwing for 248 touchdowns, and earning four Pro Bowl appearances. For me, though, Romo’s nifty no-look reverse pivot will be his enduring signature.
Romo executed his reverse spin move so many times throughout his career that it’s hard to single out one usage as the best. To understand its power, consider the way it showed up in back-to-back wins for the Cowboys in the early part of the 2014 season.
Week 5: The 3–1 Cowboys are playing J.J. Watt and the 3–1 Texans, and trailing 7–3 midway through the third quarter, Romo and Dallas face a second-and-4 from the Houston 43-yard line. Watt screams off the edge after timing the snap perfectly, blows right past (eventual first-team All-Pro left tackle) Tyron Smith, and has an unobstructed path to a bone-crushing sack. Looking at the photo below, it’d be reasonable to assume that Watt makes a drive-killing tackle, the Cowboys are forced back into their own territory, and Dallas winds up having to punt.
Nope. This turned into a f*cking touchdown pass.
This play is not a good look for any left tackle, especially one of the best in the game, and it highlights the importance of protecting a quarterback’s blind side, as Watt looks ready to level Romo. Instead, Romo somehow sensed a Mack truck barreling toward his back, planted his left foot, and spun to his right. Watt’s momentum carried his center of gravity through a Romo-shaped cloud of dust, and the Cowboys signal-caller shrugged off an arm-tackle attempt from the game’s best defender. Romo then caught his feet, looked downfield, and saw Terrance Williams streaking a step ahead of his defender on a post route. He launched a rainbow about 58-odd yards into the waiting arms of his receiver.
The Cowboys went on to win that game 20–17 in overtime, and took a 4–1 record into Seattle to play the defending Super Bowl champions and their elite defense. With 4:55 to go in that game, the Seahawks had Dallas dead to rights: Trailing 23–20, Romo and the Cowboys faced a third-and-20 from their own 31-yard line. All Seattle had to do here was force a punt, hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch, and run out the clock to preserve a win.
For a split second, that looked like exactly how it was going to go down.
Bruce Irvin exploded around the edge, eluded a chip-block attempt by running back DeMarco Murray, and left Smith in the dust. Again, a pass rusher had a clear path to clobbering Romo for a huge loss. And again, Romo miraculously spun out of trouble.
Catching sight of Irvin at the last second, he pivoted to his right, juked up into the pocket, and skipped through traffic to avoid ankle tackles, all while managing to keep an eye on Williams, whose original route was now dead. Romo pointed toward the sideline, signaling to Williams to drift just past the first-down marker. Throwing off of one foot on the run, Romo snapped off a perfectly placed pass in the only location that Williams could grab it. The receiver extended, reeled it in, and tapped both feet inbounds for the catch.
That absurd, incredible play by Romo — a move that head coach Pete Carroll later admitted Seattle had specifically zeroed in on during its preparation in the week leading up to the game — broke the Seahawks’ back. Murray picked up a combined 46 yards over the next three plays, waltzing into the end zone to give Dallas a lead it wouldn’t surrender.
Never mind how that season ended (the Cowboys lost to the Packers in the NFC divisional round following a play that we don’t need to talk about), or how the rest of Romo’s career played out (he missed all but five games over the past two years). It’s that no-look spin, and the nonchalant, ridiculous throws he’d make after completing it, that will forever stand out in my memory. Romo wasn’t the only quarterback to do this move, but like Dwight Freeney and his spin move, Hakeem Olajuwon and the dream shake, or Tim Hardaway and the killer crossover, he was the guy who perfected it.